Legendary animator Ollie Johnston once said, “Find that golden pose in your shot and hang everything else around it!” What did he mean by that? What’s a golden pose? In animation, that would mean capturing an “attitude or personality” in one snapshot. A great pose represents how the character feels and conveys his or her emotional state. We are experts in human movement because we’ve been studying ourselves and other humans all of our lives. So naturally, we recognize when something doesn’t ring true about a character, even in a pose. The human character is extremely complex and animating them can be daunting and intimidating. Below are some notes that will help you get started in bringing characters to life and inspire you to discover more about this unique art form called animation.
The Animation Essentials
1. Planning and Posing
You’re only as good as your reference. Study the drawings in the Animatic and apply the poses that have already been sketched for each shot. Ask yourself what is the attitude of the character in the shot. Use that as your guideline for posing your character. Do simple thumbnail studies of the action. Video reference is also a great way to find key poses and get your timing down. Always check the line of action through the body and make sure it reads clearly in the frame.
2. Animate from the heart
Always give your all in animating a character. You owe it to the audience just as if you were on stage performing. Put yourself in place of the character you’re animating. It’s important that you know what your character feels because that will shine through. Get up and act out how Batman would throw a punch. Have some fun doing it. You might discover something new.
3. Animate the forces
Force is a funny thing in animation because it doesn’t really exist. It’s implied through line of action in the body, the arcs, balance and timing of movement. The human figure is full of force. Even when standing we are being affected by gravity and force is being applied. Jim Lee’s drawings imply force by a clear line of action through the body and the thickness of his pencil line. In 3D animation we’ll need to understand the principles of animation which will help us create force in the human character.
A few Principles of Animation as described in The Illusion of Life,
Squash & Stretch – A great principle in animation that gives weight and flexibility. In our DC characters we will not be squashing and stretching the body but will convey it more through dynamic poses and overlapping action.
Anticipation – Extremely important. This is where you show preparation for an action. Example: Before Batman delivers a punch he would pull back first, then thrust forward.
Follow Through & Overlapping Action – Another vital component to making your animation look realistic. When a character changes direction, body parts will continue in it’s previous direction. Batman’s cape is another example of follow through. His cape should react based on the body’s overall movement.
Slow In & Slow Out – An animation will be more believable when the human body shows acceleration and slow down. Study any video reference of a runner starting and stopping and you can find the variation of movement in the body.
Arcs – Most every movement we make goes through arcs. Human actions occur along an arched trajectory. Only machines have linear mechanical movements. If you don’t pay attention to the arcs in arms, legs, elbows, and knees then the body motion could look stiff.
Secondary Action – This is used to emphasize the main action of a character. For example, when Superman lands on the ground, his arms will carry through in a natural motion. It compliments the action of the body giving life to the character.
Timing – This is important in the storytelling point of view. It can convey what the character is thinking and also gives character personality. Always pay attention to the spacing of your keys and think in terms of weight and how heavy a character or object is.
Exaggeration – The level of exaggeration is very crucial in a characters movement. Base all movement from real world physics first and then embellish from there. Our heroes have to remain true to reality but can be pushed beyond realism because they are super heroes.
Finally, remember, we are only as good as our reference. Video reference is a powerful tool because you can slow down the movement to get a better understanding of the mechanics in the human body. Look for the strong poses that convey what’s important for that shot. Break it down and deliver a clear message. And most of all have fun! Your audience will