November 7, 2012

Animation: Part 1

I was out of town this week, so I didn't have a chance to whip up the next painting for my 100 Watercolors series.  Instead, I thought I would talk about a side-project I have been slowly working on: animation.

My favorite cartoonist is Carl Barks and my favorite children's book illustrator is Bill Peet.  At some point it occurred to me that both of these guys started as inbetweeners at the Disney studio, working on old Donald Duck cartoons.  I thought about the countless hours they spent drawing the same characters over and over again, and the foundation of drawing skills that it provided.  Then when they both moved up to the story department, they developed their storytelling skills, which helped both of them create giant bodies of work that are still enjoyed by millions of readers today.

Let me be perfectly clear: I do not want to be an animator.  Illustration is easy compared to the amount of work that goes into creating comics, and creating comics is easy compared to the massive amount of work that goes into creating hand-drawn animation.  I'd rather work for a year and get 100 pages of comics, which takes about an hour to read, than work for a year and end up with ten minutes of animation.  But I do think I could learn a lot from doing a few simple animation assignments!  With this idea in mind, I asked for a copy of Richard Williams's incredible book The Animator's Survival Kit for my birthday, back in October, and I was thrilled when it arrived in the mail (Thanks Ruth and Steve!).  The book starts with the most basic animation concepts and works its way up to some very sophisticated techniques.

Claire has a video camera, so after some experimenting, I figured out a workable set up using a tripod and a little remote control that lets me snap a single photo without having to touch the camera (which is good, because you don't want the frame to jiggle around).  So far I have only done two of the most simple assignments, using coins.

The first one uses (approximately) one second of film for a coin to go across the screen - that's the timing.  Then the spacing is evenly spaced, so that the coin moves at a consistent rate:


The second one uses the same timing (about one second) but has different spacing.  The coin eases in, with many tightly spaced frames in the beginning, then has huge gaps in the middle, and then eases out at the end with another series of tightly spaced frames.  It takes the same amount of time, but the movement has a different quality:


Even this very simple concept is kind of blowing my mind!  I am excited to try out some more exercises, and I will share them with all of you, as I go along.

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