These are my notes that I’ve written up for a workshop I gave at the studio. It’s just a look into my thought process and approach to traditionally animating a scene.
There are many ways to do it, some better than others, but this is what I’ve found to be most effective for me. Hopefully, this method will help give you some ideas when tackling your own shots, scenes, and sequences.
It’s easy to get lost, especially when you’re working on scattered scenes. More often than not, the [client] storyboard won’t be clear enough to understand the action. There will be missing characters, no background, obscure scene timing, missing props and camera directions.
Having complete a complete understanding of the scene you’re working on is the key. You’ll save yourself a lot of time and frustration.
If you’re unsure about what’s happening, ask.
Like a chef preps ingredients to cook their recipe, you need to prep your scene as well. Once you have a thorough understanding of your scene, check to make sure that you have the right characters, props, settings, audio and storyboards are all up to date and approved.
If the Layout process was done correctly, many of these elements should be in the scene folder or file. Always double check though.
Thumbnailing & Timing
In the glory days of traditional animation, you’d thumbnail out the scene on another sheet of paper, plan it all out on an X-Sheet, blown it up to size on a xerox and clean up your drawings. That same idea still exists minus the extra sheets of paper, the x-sheet, and the xerox.
A simple approach would be to zoom out to 50-75% of your scene size and crudely sketch out thumbnails right on the timeline.
Every scene has a unique beat and tempo. That can be the action happening on screen, the dialogue and sound effects (if there are any), or in the soundtrack. When you start the thumbnailing process, a good place to start would be to work over the initial poses in the storyboards and or layouts.
If you’re working over the storyboard, you’ll need to put the character and or props on model, and draw the action in the proper perspective. If you’re working from a layout, double check to make sure that the design is consistent throughout.
The concept behind thumbnailing is that you’re trying to figure out the action. This is where you can get a lot of the major key and breakdown points in. When you Key out the actions they should be able to describe arcs, head turns, change in shape and whatever effect you’re going for.
I tend to work on thumbnailing and timing at the same time as I go shifting frames until I have something that feels right. This helps me get to my end result a lot faster.
Clean up & Notations
Once you’ve got something that you’re satisfied with, clean it up. Mark up any timing charts and notions that you may have. More often than not, the next process will be handed off to someone else. If you do end up taking your scene to completion, it’ll be handy to have these notes should you have to come back to it later. Plus having clean drawings make it much easier to animate with.
By this point, you should have a thorough understanding of your scene and character(s). The next approach is to bring them to life. Remember the basic 5 principals of drawing:
- Volume, Mass & Proportion
- Overlapping Objects & Foreshortening
And also the 12 principals of animation:
- Squash & Stretch
- Anticipation (a.k.a Antic.)
- Straight ahead action and pose to pose
- Follow through and overlapping action
- Slow In and Out
- Secondary Action
- Solid Drawing (see above)
Put yourself in the place of your character, associate with what’s happening in the scene if you can. If you don’t feel it, don’t draw it.
Above all else, keep it simple.
Art is about communicating. You want to express the most important part of the scene - the essence of it - clearly. That should be your focus. If its started to get too busy, too distracting, cut things out. Get it down to things we can’t live without.
We’re also in a deadline driven industry. We have to make good artwork, so we have to keep to the essentials and make every drawing count.
Written by Esteban Valdez