Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Animation Research

I've picked up a number of well-known books by Disney veterans and have been working my way through them in order to expand and develop my animation understanding and skill.

These include:

Drawn to Life, 20 Years of Disney Master Classes volumes 1 and 2 by Walt Stanchfield.

Walt Stanchfield was one of the artists who trained the new wave of animation talent that entered the Disney studio in the 70s. Amongst those he taught were Brad Bird, John Lasseter, Don Bluth, Joe Ranft, John Musker, Ron Clements, Glen Keane, Andreas Deja, Mark Henn, and many others - it seems exciting to me that some of the same advice and training given to such prestigious artists is readily available for complete beginners like me. I knew I had to absorb everything he had to say in his book.

The first thing that struck me about these books was that they are not organised in any particularly chronological way, instead there are in the first volume 149 short chapters (originally 'handouts' given to the artists) on assorted topics that can be read independently of each other for quick guidance or inspiration.  These range from tips on how to draw and animate specific body parts to chapters that explore the concept of creativity and how an animator must think as well as draw. I find these chapters especially interesting as it gave an insight into the creative process itself - understanding that on a deeper level will undoubtedly have a beneficial effect on how I draw.

In the first chapter, Enthusiasm, he mentions: 'psychology there is, and it cannot and should not be ignored. Your mental and emotional processes are you,' and goes on to write about the importance of mental/emotional processes for motivation. I haven't really seen this kind of advice given, at least not to much of a level of depth, in other animation books. It's an important reminder of how closely our mental/emotional states effect us creatively.

Anyway, the second chapter gives details of the principles of animation, which he says 'should appear in all scenes, for they comprise the basis for full animation'. There are many more written here than the usual twelve principles I find or hear about, and he says there may well be more. Although many of these at first need to be used consciously, they should become second-nature. Knowing how to apply these principles is also necessary to enable an artist to animate intellectually, logically and artistically as well as emotionally, as we can't always rely on our emotions to fuel our drawing. For future reference, I'll write them below:

  • Pose and mood
  • Shape and form
  • Anatomy
  • Model or character
  • Weight
  • Line and silhouette
  • Action and reaction
  • Perspective
  • Direction
  • Tension 
  • Planes
  • Solidity
  • Arcs
  • Squash and stretch
  • Beat and rhythm
  • Depth and volume
  • Overlap and follow through
  • Timing
  • Working from extreme to extreme
  • Straights and curves
  • Primary and secondary action
  • Staging and composition
  • Anticipation
  • Caricature
  • Details
  • Texture
  • Simplification
  • Positive and negative shapes
  • Opposing force
There's tons of really valuable quotes, advice and observations from Stanchfield in this book. He really challenges my perception of drawing as a medium, on how to really work on crossing that bridge between an image being 'just a drawing', which can be technically brilliant but never transcend that status, to something imbued with feeling through gestures. All gestures are certainly more than their parts. 
He likens this to looking at a piece of sheet music - it means nothing until it has been performed in a way that evokes feeling. Parts of a figure must be put together so that they portray the meaning of the pose, not just the pose.

I could write a very long post about what I'm learning from this book, but I'll save these for when I start animating and really start applying his teachings - particularly those about specific aspects of drawing, like drawing fabric or how to overlap lines to create depth.

As a quick bit of practice though I've tried to draw the characters in some poses which express something clearly.

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