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

Friday, July 13, 2012

No. 8, Problem 2: A Staggering Solution (Part 1)

The Stagger effect is one of those gimmicks developed in Hollywood and used at Disney, Warners, MGM, and probably other places as well. It's first real use is probably not known.   It is a way of getting a shuddering or vibrating sense  of extreme tension into an animation, or it is used to illustrate fright or some other emotion where a progressive vibration is called for.  The technique is definitely a gimmick and dependent on the use of a formula, though as in the cartoon Take, which involves an anticipation and then some extreme distortion to express surprise or fright, the possible variations are endless.

But how many animators have simply never been called upon to do a Stagger, or have never even had a scene where a Stagger was a possible solution?  Well I am in that category, and so in my film The Crossing, when I devised a scene where a character must remove his hat dramatically,  I was delighted to realize that a good Stagger was exactly the right solution to the problem.

You begin by animating one or sometimes two sets of drawings in a smooth moving hold, which is ordinarily a way of maintaining life by moving from an extreme pose to a similar but even more extreme pose.  Then--and here is the gimmicky part-- you shoot the drawings out of order, but in a calculated way, to get the stagger effect.

Let's now look at my example.
Drawing 409--first frame of the scene
The setup is that the man has concealed something under his hat which he wants to present as a surprise to his wife (a live fox).  He has already tried twice to get his hat off with a little tugging, without success.  Above, he takes hold of the hat brim for a final effort.

Drawing 421--he gets set
In 421, the anticipation, he sets himself with grim determination.

Drawing 437--first drawing of the stagger.
Drawing 437 shows him at the point where he has already expended considerable effort, but whereas in his previous attempts he stopped to regroup, now he means to continue to the end.  The Stagger begins with this drawing.  Note that although the drawing numbers 437 to 453 on the spacing chart indicate exposure on 2's (exposing 2 frames per drawing), the Stagger will actually be exposed on 1's; when I did the drawings I was experimenting to see if I could bring it off on 2's, but it wasn't effective.

Drawing 453--last drawing of the stagger.
By 453 he has stretched everything to the breaking point; something's got to give!  The hat brim will tear or his fingernails will be pulled out or he will collapse with apoplexy--I plan to add a gradual red flush to his face color as this goes on.  Note that if this were not to be exposed as a Stagger, then drawings 437 to 453 would simply be considered a moving hold.

Drawing 455--the next drawing.
Yes, drawing 455 is the very next drawing after the one above; sometimes, an extreme change like this can work very well, as Eric Goldberg demonstrates so well in his book ("Character Animation Crash Course").  As the man had hoped, it was the hat that came off.  Suddenly unrestrained, his arms shoot up, his head jerks down into his chest, his knees (unseen) bend and bring his hips down, leaving his belly to hang for an instant where it was, a follow-through item.

Drawing 475--recovery and hold.

By drawing 475, the man has recovered from the violent movement, and he holds here for 18 frames as he assesses the situation.  I will be adding a blink when I get to my digital processing in Animate Pro.

Drawing 503--last drawing of the scene.
And finally, here is the last drawing of the scene, where we cut in mid motion to a wider shot of both the man and his wife and he continues sweeping off his hat for her, revealing the tightly furled fox upon his head.

Next: For Comparison, Testing the Scene Without the Stagger Effect


  1. I thank SO MUCH there are people like you out there. I want to be a 2d animator as well. Please visit my demoreel and leave some comments if you will.
    My web is and my blo if you want to see more of what I do.

    I love the change the hat movement has. It is great really, has a lot of magic because all the carefully thinking you put on it. My congratulations to your work.

    1. Alenz, I thank you very much for your comment. Yes, good animation is about careful thinking, but it is also about being able to visualize the result that you want. I will soon be writing a post about this, and about the failure to visualize that we all sometimes face.

      I will be making comments about your demoreel today.