What makes animation fun is bringing things to life. Animators often study reference video to get inspiration from real movement, but sometimes what we see in real life doesn’t translate well to animated shots. This is where exaggeration plays a major role; we caricature the motion to stylize the visual result. Without exaggeration an animation can feel boring or lifeless.
Animation gives us the possibility to explore movements that don't necessarily obey the exact rules of real-life physics. With animation we have the chance to take the foundation of real-life physics to a higher level with exaggeration, resulting in something much more interesting and fun to watch.
Real-life movement and poses and acting is already interesting, but how much more entertaining it can be to put your audience into an alternate reality, where the rules of physics and nature are bent and stylized a bit - to make something truly unique.
How would you enjoy watching a classic Bugs Bunny short but with realistic, motion-captured movements? It wouldn't be as enjoyable would it?
It is easy to feel limited by the rig you are working with, but you shouldn’t be scared of pushing it beyond its limits. Although rigs can be broken, it is likely that when played back at full speed, what looked weird for one frame of your shot may be unnoticeable. Testing the rig you have and finding how you can work around its limitations is always useful. Remember to break the rig to your advantage!
One way to exaggerate your animations is through your poses. Animated poses aren't just a reflection of real life, they are staged for the camera or audience's view to more fully embody the moment and action, carefully crafted to tell the story and convey the emotion the best way possible. A carefully crafted exaggerated pose creates more appeal -- it's more interesting to look at. There may be times when you match the pose exactly as you see it in video reference and that may work well, but you will want to find places and parts of the body you can push to make the pose work better. A great way to do this is first creating the pose you see on your reference and once you are satisfied, go back to it and figure out how you can make it more interesting. Can you simplify the line of action running through the body? Can you create a stronger contrast with other storytelling poses? Is this the best, most entertaining way to make this pose?
The other major opportunity is exaggerating timing. Animated movements often have simplified transitions, sped up to
emphasize the poses before and after. That makes an animation look
The timing in your video reference should only be used as a guide and most often you want to push it for maximum effect. Imitating reality can lead to very floaty and dull animations.
Depending on the context, exaggeration can be in small or large amounts. If the production and designs are more realistic, exaggeration should be minimal. More stylized designs lend themselves to more stylized movement and posing. It is important to keep in mind that a subtle exaggeration in timing or spacing may be just what your animation needs. Don’t forget that you often want to feel the exaggeration more than you want to see it!
Mastering the art of animation can be truly hard. It can take years of hard work and dedication to get you to where you want to be, and as technology grows and develops, there are always new things to be learned in the animation field. However, following the right workflows and techniques can help you develop your skills as an animator faster than you might think.
It’s all in the basics!
When you start learning animation, you might want to tackle a walk cycle or a complex acting shot right away. Still, you should start out simple and try not to take on an animated shot above your skill level, as it will probably frustrate you when you should be having fun!
Instead, you should start with a simple ball bounce. This is the first exercise any animator must master. Once you feel confident, you can move on to animating a ball bounce across the screen and eventually incorporating squash and stretch, adding more personality to the ball. Soon you will see that with each new exercise you tackle, your skill level will grow and you will have incorporated new animation principles to the mix. Remember: working in small chunks will guarantee that each technique is mastered before you can move on!
One of the best ways to improve your animation skills is to find out what inspires you as an animator. Watching your favorite animated movie is a great way to study how the animator incorporated the principles, so you can then try to implement those techniques into your own shot. Keep in mind: watching these amazingly-executed animations should make you want to jump onto the computer and animate, and not make you feel discouraged by their level of complexity. Use movies to inspire you to get to that level!
Get Your Body Mechanics Working
Once you know the principles, you can start learning about body mechanics. Knowing how a human should move is they key to a great acting shot. The best way to start is by animating a simple walk cycle. Once you have nailed that down, you can try to animate a character walking and coming to a stop. Take each exercise one step at a time and keep them short, from three to four seconds. Each shot will be a bit more difficult than the last, but as your skill level grows, you’ll be amazed at how much you’ve progressed.
Act It Out
Once you feel ready to take on acting and dialogue shots, on of the most useful things is to study live action films. You can take a scene in a movie and analyze the actor’s movements. This is a great exercise to help you incorporate small nuances found in great acting.
The More Feedback The Better
Working on your shot for a long time can make you skip little mistakes. In other words, if you are the only one looking at your animation, it can get very hard to give yourself feedback and notes. Asking for someone to look at your shot, even if that person doesn’t have animation knowledge, will help you see if something isn’t looking right. Remember not to take it personally if someone has a different idea for your shot-- sharing your work is a great way to improve!
Learning animation is a never-ending process, but learning it in small chunks and having the right mindset will ensure that your animation skills grow faster. It’s not about the length of your shots, but rather how many shots you get completed and how much you push yourself with each one!
There are a large variety of animation books for different uses out there, such as 2D animation, stop motion, 3D and much more. Still, there are 5 books that any aspiring and professional animator should have.
1- The Animator’s Survival Kit by Richard Williams
When it comes to the principles of animation and body mechanics, this book starts you off on the right track as it thoroughly covers the basics of spacing, timing, weight, anticipation, walks, dialogue and much more.
Richard Williams is best known as the Director of Animation and designer of the new characters for Who Framed Roger Rabbit, for which he won two Academy Awards.
This book will provide you with the best training while learning to be an animator.
2. The Illusion of Life by Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston
Considered by many to be the animation Bible, this book gives us lessons learned from the early Disney films, providing the theory behind every principle of animation. Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston worked at Disney since its earliest days, and wrote this book to take the reader through their experiences as they discovered and researched the best methods of animation.
3. Cartoon Animation by Preston Blair
This book focuses on five key areas; character movement, character development, animation, dialogue, and camera sound. It comes in handy for developing a cartoon character, animating dialogue with action and creating dynamic movement. Preston Blair worked in big studios such as Disney and Hanna Barbera. His book is also considered to be great for animal animation, since it shows in detail a lot of examples of animating different types of cartoon animals.
4. Draw the Looney Tunes: The Warner Bros. Character Design Manual
This animation manual was created during the Golden Era of Animation, and it focuses mostly on traditional animation and drawing. Although it doesn’t dive into the principles of animation, it does provide great insights and tips on how to pose characters and how to break down live action photos into readable animation poses.
5. Acting for Animators by Ed Hooks
Any animator knows that storytelling is extremely important when it comes to animating a shot. This book is a toolbox to discover and create your character. Ed Hooks, industry-known acting instructor for animators, gives the reader a taste of acting theory as well as exercises and examples to take your animation to the next level.
Animation has come a long way since its beginnings, and it’s always interesting to see how technology has changed the industry throughout the years.
These are some of the years that marked a milestone in the animation field.
“Fantasmagorie” becomes the first film using hand-drawn animation. It was animated by Emile Cohl, and consisted of 700 drawings, each exposed twice, leading to a running time of almost two minutes.
Felix the Cat is introduced and it is considered to be the first animated movie star. Aside from the animated shorts, Felix starred in a comic strip drawn by Pat Sullivan and Otto Messmer, and was later redesigned by Joe Oriolo as the cartoon began airing on American TV in 1953.
Walt Disney Studios releases “Steamboat Willie”, the first cartoon with sound printed on the film. Although it received some criticism, the film also got wide critical acclaim for introducing one of the world’s most popular cartoon, as well as technical innovation to the industry.
Warner Brothers Cartoons is founded, the in-house division of Warner Bros Pictures during the Golden Age of American animation. It was responsible for the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies, which featured characters such as Speedy Gonzalez, Sylvester and Tweety and Daffy Duck among many others.
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is released by Walt Disney Studios, making it the first animated feature to use hand-drawn animation. It was both a critical and commercial success, earning $8 million in its initial international release, assuming the record of highest-grossing sound film at the time.
The Flintstones become the first animated series on prime-time television. Its popularity was based on the juxtaposition of modern everyday concerns with the Stone Age setting. The series was the most financially successful network animated franchise for three decades.
The Graphics Group releases “The Adventures of Andre & Wally B”, the first fully CGI-animated short film. The animation done by John Lasseter, was groundbreaking by the standards of the time and helped spark the film industry's interest in computer animation.
Matt Groening creates “The Simpsons”, the longest-running American animated sitcom. Groening created a dysfunctional family, naming the characters after his own family, substituting Bart for his own name. After a three-season run, it became a half-hour prime time show.
Toy Story is released, becoming the first fully computer-animated feature film. Pixar, which produced short animated films to promote their computers, was approached by Disney to produce a computer-animated feature after the success of their short film Tin Toy (1988). The studio, then consisting of a relatively small number of employees, produced the film under minor financial constraints but became the highest-grossing film upon its release earning over $373 million worldwide.
Monsters, Inc. is released, reaching over $100 million in only 9 days, faster than any animated film in history. It took home two Academy Awards for Best Song and Significant Advanced in the Field of Motion Picture Rendering.
Big Hero 6 becomes the first Disney animated film to feature Marvel Comics characters. Reaching over $657 million worldwide, it became the highest-grossing animated film of 2014 and won an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature.
Finding Dory premieres, grossing over $1 billion worldwide and becoming the first Pixar film to cross this mark since 2010's Toy Story 3. The film set numerous records, including the highest-grossing animated film opening of all time in North America.
Hailing from the artistic city of Florance, Italy, Sylwia Bomba is a young and talented artist. She has been involved in several projects at Pixar and Disney in the past years. She was also a drawing and painting instructor at AnimSchool where she taught students how to draw and paint digitally. Recently we got a chance to interview her about her art and any advice she had for artists around the world.
Sylwia, tell us about yourself and your journey to becoming an artist.
First of all, I would like to thank you for having me! It's a pleasure. I have been drawing since I was a kid and I never stopped. I've always loved being surrounded by my papers and pencils. I still remember the day when I told my parents about my dream: I was about 5-6 years old. They didn't take my decision seriously but I was a very stubborn kid and I kept insisting. My dad saw my determination and decided to support me with all his heart. Shortly after that, he became my first drawing teacher - the most meticulous, diligent and patient one. I've learned from him that being satisfied with our work while having a big ego kills our ambition and turns it into blind pride. He wanted me to push myself in my work asking me to work harder all the time. This is how my adventure with art began. I would be sketching after school, at school, on holidays, on summer breaks...I was growing up with a pencil in my hand.
At the age of 15, I moved to Italy and started studying in Italian High School. Being in a country with such long history of art inspired me even more. I wanted to learn everything about art but it was hard in the beginning: I had to learn a totally new language. It was a struggle to find myself an accepted place after being a stranger in the society. But I was determined that even if I had to lose many things in my life - I would do so because, for me, my passion for arts defines my whole life. So I kept going on.
The most important thing we all need to remember is to never lose our faith. There will always be something to complain about, there will always be someone who won't like what we do - but we need to pursue it as hard as we can! Dealing with setbacks and failures, using them as a learning opportunity to push ourselves more, learn more and discover more is the only way to move forward and be successful.
Looking at your portfolio I cannot help but feel the emotions you are able to pour in each of your paintings. The portraits are full of personalities and emotions. How are you able to do that? How do you make portraits seem relatable in this age of photography and selfies?
Thank you very much! I like drawing and painting portraits because through portraits I can show my deep emotions without using any words. When I moved to Italy at the age of 15 – I was not familiar with the Italian language and was finding it hard to communicate with people. Art helped me then to express myself. I started observing the world around me with more attention and accuracy. I observed that when we stop using words - we see things differently; we notice with great intensity just how majestic our world truly is. Tones and colors change immediately: we pay attention to any little expression we see, so much so that we can almost feel it on our skin. The same thing happens when we watch silent movies. They have their own taste and charm which we don’t see in modern movies.
Time has changed but people can't change that much. We still are emotional beings and we feed our curiosity with interesting stories. We love to see what someone is doing, what he is eating and how he is changing his life. People in the past used paintings as an instrument to tell us their stories. A good painting should tell you a story or arouse emotions in your heart and bring life to your memories. In fact, Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.
What I enjoy the most when I view your portfolio and your blog is the variety of media you employ to paint your paintings. There are oil paintings on canvases and then digital paintings as well. How do you manage to work with both media?
How do I manage to work with both media? I enjoy it! The more techniques we try, the more flexible we will be in digital Arts. Through computer we imitate coal brushes, oils, canvases - why shouldn't we just learn how they work in real life - to improve the use of a digital imitation of them?
What’s the best and worst aspect of both media and do you miss ctrl+z when you paint on canvas?
Of course, I miss my ctrl+z on canvas! Maybe that's why I find the oil painting more challenging. You need to focus on your colors. You can't just pick them up. You also can't just make a selection of an arm and move it. But using computers, you can't feel the unique smell of the turpentine, you can't touch the canvas and feel how soft is the brush. Computers save your time but take from you the satisfaction of touching your art piece. Moreover, using traditional media - you always have one original painting. You can sell many copies of your art - but you still have that original.
I am always impressed by the lighting and colors of your art pieces. It is a very difficult thing to do. We at AnimSchool also offer a 3D lighting course. What advice would you like to give to the students of that class which would help them get a better sense of lighting and colors in their work as well.
A painting demo by Sylwia in AnimSchool class
Thank you very much! The greatest teacher is "observation". The more time you spend observing the world around you, the more you see. Studying photography is also a good method to understand the composition and the lighting of a scene. Traveling everywhere with your camera is very helpful. It's good to create your own folder with your inspiring pictures of different lighting and then using them into your scenes. You can also choose a landscape you want to photograph - but before taking a photo think about the lighting. Which emotion does it evoke? Representing one landscape in different lights during a day helps us to understand how many stories we can tell through the lighting.
You taught an art class before at AnimSchool. How was that experience?
It was and still is an unforgettable experience. Art isn't about getting the right answer but is also about getting the right question. The questions taught me more than you can even imagine. I've learned a lot from AnimSchool students, their questions taught me to look beyond books and seek more information. I love teaching but I love it more when students interact with me during the class and show me their work and express their different views. It's an extremely inspiring part of teaching.
I've seen so many AnimSchool graduates achieving great successes on their career path, working for big studios. It's an honor to be a drawing instructor for AnimSchool and meet so many great people. I'm thankful for it!
I see that you have also animated few shots. In your experience, how does knowing fine arts helped you in animation?
I'm not proud of this short animation - it was my first 3D exercise Animation I've done. But thank you for mentioning about it. While learning Fine Arts you need to feel the flow of the pose, you need to understand deeply the anatomy and how it works. You learn the mechanics of the muscles and most importantly your aesthetic eye perceives the world differently. Our perception expands horizons of our vision and allows us to put a higher meaning and value into our work. The more styles we learn, the more biographies we read, the faster we find our own style and vision.
If you have to advise someone who is just starting in the field of painting, what would your advice be? What is the most important principle/rule that they have to nail before moving ahead?
Many people give up quickly because they can't see the results of their hard work or they compare themselves to others or more experienced artists. In the process of working on your dreams, you are going to incur a lot of failure and hardships. It's necessary to take control of your fear, be aware of your value and focus on your dream. If you will work hard, all mistakes and failures will be just investments into your progress.
Follow your idols, read biographies of old masters, learn different styles and techniques. Sometimes to understand our purpose better, we need to study other people’s life. First steps are always the most difficult but remember all of them lead you toward your future success.
The humility of an artist has a meaningful value. Nowadays is very rare to meet young and humble artists. Being humble doesn't mean thinking you are bad at drawing. It means you know your value; you know who you are but you are always ready to learn more from others.