As this blog is focused on detail and the small decisions that accumulate to make a larger picture, in these posts we will often examine short sections of a scene instead of the whole scene. This helps keep the presentation concise and clear. However, I want to remind you (and myself) that normally it is best to look at an entire shot or scene all at once, to judge its rhythm and pacing. I hope that in your own animation work, you will not lose sight of this important idea.
Bad, Not-So-Bad, Better, Best
This time we will look at a part of the action of the woman. The man holds the fox in his hands, having just lowered it down from his head, and the woman has moved in close. At the beginning she is looking at the man. She then turns to the fox and reaches out her hand to tickle him under his chin.
I have four pencil tests to show you. The first one I call...
If there is one bad habit I am most often guilty of, it is that of making my rough drawings too detailed before testing the action even once. When it works, it works, but when it doesn't, then I have unnecessarily wasted a lot of time and effort. This is an example of that. The poses looked good to me, I didn't see how it could go wrong, and so I spent a lot of time drawing detailed hands, for instance, because I thought the animation was a sure thing.
It wasn't. The head and body work fine, but in this first test I could see that the arms and hands are not saying what I want to say. The left hand passes too close to her nose on its way to reach out to the fox, and the right hand makes a fluttery gesture that only distracts viewer attention from the main action.
Right hand fixed. Left hand has been changed so that there is much more drag; the wrist leads the hand. At first I thought this might be too theatrical a gesture for this character, but she is about to admire the cute little fox, so she is in a playful mood.
But now, as often happens when you change one thing, something else becomes apparent that needs to change. The action in this test begins and ends with holds. Everything begins moving all at once, and everything also stops all at once at the end. It goes against the good advice that, going into a hold, everything should not arrive all at once. This is something that people will notice, or at least it is something that will ring false even if they don't know why. Rather than appearing to be alive, the character looks robotic and mechanical. (I did think that the tickling movement of the finger that will begin as soon as her left hand comes to rest might be the overlapping movement I needed, but now I see a need for more overlap.)
Now the unfurling of her left hand has been delayed and finishes after her body and right hand have come to rest. You can still see the ghost images of the hand where they have been erased from other drawings.
To fill out the delayed movement of the left hand, I tried a moving hold of her fist, but it isn't working right.
I changed the left arm so that it moves in close to the body in an anticipation of the main movement. This works pretty well now and I am happy with the result.
Pencil testing sometimes goes like this, through four or more versions before the scene looks and feels just right. Other times, the animator hits it right the first time through. In this case, the main thing I did wrong was to draw in too much detail before the rough movement was proven in pencil test.
"LET THAT BE A LESSON TO YOU!" the director (I) shouted at the animator ( me.)
Let it be a lesson to you, too.