Monday, November 03, 2008

Basic HB Head Bob for Andrew

Eddie will hate this post. Sorry, Eddie.

In the late 50s when theatrical cartoons became too expensive to produce, Bill Hanna developed a system of limited animation that kept a lot of animators in food. A lot of people hate it, but the reality of TV production is you can't do a lot of drawings. My own solution to that was to use more interesting key poses, instead of stock - "on-model" poses that all look the same.

Bill and the 50s animators figured out some tricks to "keep the characters alive" so they weren't just held drawings. Probably their main tool for this is the "head-bob". They animate the heads bouncing up and down slightly according to the accents in the actor's dialogue rack.
There are all kinds of variations you can do with head bobs and other techniques to make it more interesting, but here is a super basic one just to get the idea across.

Key 1 - main head position (H-1)
Each head bob starts from a main position- with the head in the middle - not up or down.
This particular head bob only has 2 keys- middle head position and down position. You can also have an up head position, but this one doesn't.

mouths are animated on another level.

key 2 (H-5) down position for accents
The animator draws the head in another key position - this one is tilted down slightly.
Then he calls for inbetweens. There are 3 inbetweens in this particular head bob. They are timed pretty evenly. This is the inbetween in the middle between the first key (middle head position) and the second key (down position).

The animator listens to the sound track.
He listens for the accent in BooBoo's sentence.

"how 'bout HONEY Yogi?"

Then he moves the head down on "Hon" and leaves it there for "honey" before the head comes up again.

This visual accent reinforces the meaning of the dialogue, by following the actor's reading.

Here there is some extended dialogue, and the animator creates his head bob drawings, then re-uses them in different orders according to the accents in the dialogue.

It's not a modern timing formula. Today, especially in Flash we tend to rely on avoiding inbetweens by anticitating the first pose and then zipping past the final pose and "cushioning" back into the final key.

That technique can be useful for fast actions, but becomes monotonous when used to connect every single key pose. You don't always want to draw attention to each action - and this Flash technique does that and competes with the meaning of the scene.

The old animators used a variety of techniques and timings - even when doing their "limited animation". The head bob is one technique of many that has a lot of potential variations when a clever animator does it. Ed Love was great at making limited animation sem fuller than what it really was and I'll show some of his stuff in another post.

Mouths are animated for each of the inbetween poses as well as the keys. Then when the head bobs up and down, there is a continuous flow of dialgue.

Of course, nothing is better than good full animation, but not too many TV shows have ever been able to afford that, so we make due with the tools we have. These old HB cartoons were produced for about 1 10th the budgets of their earlier Tom and Jerry cartoons. Sad, but that's the ugly reality! The funny part is, I like these cartoons better than Tom and Jerry.

Not having beautiful full animation to rely on, Joe Barbera switched the focus of his cartoons to character, rather than action - at least for a couple of years until it all became another formula.