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

Monday, November 25, 2013

No. 51, Hollywood Cartoons: One's or Two's; Which Works Best?

Sometimes I like to load a DVD of classic cartoons into my laptop and step through parts of the animation, frame-by-frame.  This way you can learn something about the thinking and strategy of the animator and often pick up a few of his tricks.

The other day I was doing this with Bugs Bunny Rides Again, the 1947 cartoon directed by Friz Freleng.  This was the second appearance of Yosemite Sam, and the credited animators are Ken Champin, Virgil Ross, Gerry Chiniquy and Manny Perez.

The big showdown between Bugs and Sam (six-shooter, seven-shooter, eight-shooter, nine-shooter, ten-shooter, pea-shooter) contained a surprise and a puzzle when viewed frame-by-frame: the animation of the quick draw action for Sam was mostly on two's; for Bugs, it was mostly on one's.

If you are not familiar with this terminology, here is a little explanation: it was generally held even at Disney that most action could be presented smoothly enough on two's--that is, two frames of film exposed for each drawing in film that ran at a projection speed of 24 frames per second.  So, for one second of action, you might need only 12 drawings instead of 24.

However, for very fast action, and especially where drawings exposed on two's would not overlap at all  (and overlap helps to smooth out the flow of animation), it was regarded as necessary to have a drawing for every frame of that very fast action.

Thus, an animated sequence could be expected to have sections where the slow bits were on twos and the very fast bits were on one's.

(Another circumstance where it is considered necessary to animate on one's is during a camera pan movement, because since the background is moving on one's, the character has to be doing the same.)

In the showdown between Sam and Bugs, they face each other and draw their two guns alternately.  Here is where I observed a difference in their animation.  It became obvious because this sequence escalates.  Sam has six-shooters; Bugs draws seven-shooters; Sam draws eight-shooters, and so on until Sam draws ten-shooters and Bugs draws a pea shooter.  And the same timing shows up in each instance  (and, yes, the animation is different each time; the studios at this point in animation history seldom engaged in reuse of animation.)

Below are the key frames from just one part of this action, where Sam draws eight-shooters (on two's) and then Bugs draws nine-shooters (on one's).  Let's look at them now, and then I will say more about them.

Start of the action.
Sam drawing one: 1 frame.
Sam drawing two: 1 frame.
Sam drawing three: 1 frame.
Sam drawing four: 1 frame.
Sam drawing five: 2 frames.  Here I skip 2 drawings of 2 frames each which are the anticipation as he grips his holstered guns.

Sam drawing eight: 2 frames.
Sam drawing nine: 2 frames.
Sam drawing ten: 2 frames.
Now it is Bugs' turn to draw.
Bugs drawing one: 1 frame.
Bugs drawing two: 1 frame.  Again, I skip a few frames as Bugs says something, then gets ready to draw his pistols.
Bugs drawing nine: 1 frame.
Bugs drawing ten: 1 frame.
Bugs drawing eleven: 1 frame.
Bugs drawing twelve: 1 frame.
Bugs drawing thirteen: 1 frame.
And they hold on the final drawing.
Studying this frame by frame, I wondered why it was that Bugs' draws were on ones (or 1's; to me it doesn't matter how you write it) and Sam's were on twos.  I even wondered momentarily if a separate animator had drawn each character.

Playing it with sound, everything became clear to me.  The timing is driven by the dialog.  Each character says something like, "Oh, no it don't!", and draws his guns on the last word.  Sam, as voiced by Mel Blanc, draws his words out a bit longer than Bugs, also voiced by Mel Blanc.  The animator was simply hitting accents, and with Bugs he needed fewer frames to get to the accent.

But what an interesting look at the use of 1's and 2's this is.  The actions are quite similar, the difference between use of 1's and use of 2's is, in this case, just about undetectable.  And they both work.  All the usual techniques are here: stretched shapes, dry-brushed speed and motion lines or tracks, and even a one-frame smear when Bugs brings out his pea-shooter (not shown.)

I invite you to look at some animation this way.  Many console  DVD players offer this step forward feature, and the DVD player of my Macbook Pro also works well for this, except that it will not step backwards.

Note: All images in this post are copyright of Warner Brothers Entertainment, Inc., and are used with their imagined indulgence.

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