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

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

No. 33, Problem Six: Fox Bites Nose (Part 1)

Well, it has happened again.  My Director (me) has just come by and dropped onto my desk all the drawings from the end of this scene with the fox.  All he said was, "You can do better than this."

At first I was angry.  All that work for nothing!  But the animator (me again) calmed down and took a look at the pencil test.  This is part of the whole sequence where the man pulls off his hat, revealing the fox underneath, then lifts the fox down for his wife to see.  All that has been the subject of the Problems 2, 3 and 5.

Now the wife leans in to see the fox.  As she tickles his chin, he suddenly seizes her by the nose.  Instinctively she jerks away, but not too hard, for she doesn't want to lose her nose.  Holding the fox, the man also reacts, yet he cannot just pull the fox away.

I had animated everything described above, and it was clear what was going on.  Yet as Animator, I had to admit: it just did not work.

Here is the pencil test:

I have to say, I am embarrassed now to even display this video on my blog, it is so bad.  Yet as I have stated, part of the idea of the blog is to show you my mistakes and how I am correcting them.  This is one of those times when I am taking a chance, because as I write this, I have not yet fixed the problem, so I cannot be sure what I will create to replace the mess I have made.  (But yes, I have already roughed in a new set of key drawings, so I do have some idea of what direction I will go.)

First, let's try to analyze what I did, and why it is so wrong.

Here is what happens in the scene:

1-The wife moves in.  She tickles the fox.

2-The fox bites her nose.

3-She jumps.

4-The man does a "take", reacting in surprise.

5-The woman moves into a pleading attitude, hoping that the fox will let her go.

 And so it goes, 1-2-3-4-5.  The result?  It is boring.

The Failure To Visualize

My first mistake was the biggest mistake you can make as an animator: failing to envision what the scene should look like, or what it should feel like.  In any animation, but particularly in a pantomime like this, it is all important to have a good idea where you are going before you try to go there.  Even with something quite complex, a good animator should be able to close his or her eyes and "see" the action, at least to the extent of its timing and power.  I had not really done this.  I had analyzed the scene intellectually, and I had broken it down into five separate components and then had animated each one, separately.  In cases where the characters are not closely engaged, this can work.  But in the present instance, the three characters are not only closely engaged, they are actually physically connected!

Once the fox takes hold of the woman's nose, the three characters have become one moving mass.  In the language of computer graphics, they have become grouped.  It therefore no longer makes sense to try to animate them separately; they must now be animated as a group.

Also, I had a mistaken notion that the fox's head should not move after he takes hold of the nose.  I thought it would be funnier if the others moved all around the fox, and he didn't.  Well, I tried that, and it obviously did not work.

The New Vision

This kind of group movement is well known to veteran animators, and once you get the idea, it provides an avenue to good results in scenes where two or more characters are locked together in combat, for example, or where a group of characters all react to something, where the reaction moves through them like a wave or surge.  Many of the dwarfs' scenes in Disney's Snow White make use of this approach to great effect.

Group movement is also discussed in some detail on pages 364 and 365 of Illusion of Life, the Disney animation bible by Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston.

Next: My New Approach

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