Thursday, November 06, 2008

Head Bobs - same concept, more keys + Anthony Agrusa

Once I figured out the basic Ed Love head bob/re-use technique, I started doing variations on it. In this scene I explained the idea to a very good animator - Anthony Agrusa. I said to add more cushions to make the animation smoother than what we are used to in limited animation. Anthony did a lot of the best scenes in Boo Boo Runs Wild. I'd love to work with him again sometime.







We have 2 concepts going here:

1) making a few key poses and animating in and out of them in different orders to save drawings
2) Using the keys to accent the natural accents in the actor's dialogue

I did the key layout poses for this and 3 other scenes that use the same poses (and more)
This has more key drawings than the typical head bob but uses the same idea - only expanded.

I'm using more specific expressions, more exaggerated, but the concepts came from the HB head bobs.

All a head bob is anyway is one way to draw attention to accents in the dialogue. Classic animators did this for decades - only drawing more accent poses.

Those same animators when stuck with lower budgets, boiled down the concept to using just a few accent drawings, and using the same ones a few times. Plus- and this is probably why a lot of people complain about limited animation - they used blander keys - less specific than when they were full animators.

Combine bland drawings with less drawings and you get a feeling like you are being cheated - at least if you were used to the glorious fully animated cartoons of the 1940s. Today everything is a cheat so no one even notices.

I saw in some of the very early HB cartoons, funny drawings and decent limited animation - and great character designs and voices. It made me think, "Why couldn't we take these concepts and add funnier gags, situations and funnier, more specific expressions?" I got my first chance to try out this idea on a remake of the Jetsons in 1985. I found a bunch of layouts from that show if anyone is interested.

By the way, head bobs are not the only way to draw attention to the meaning of character's emotions and dialogue.

Body language and gestures also do the same thing.

An interesting fact about how we communicate: We all speak the same language - verbally. But visually, each of us is totally unique. We also communicate with our own particular group of expressions. We all do funny things with our head positions while we are talking - and listening.

And each of us has a unique set of hand gestures.

If you want a good laugh, start paying attention to people you know. Watch how they move their hands when they talk - and see how the hand movements change when their emotions change in color, or intensity. Watch what they do with their head positions.

To me, observing this kind of stuff is an animator's priority. We all hear in school how a animator is "an actor with a pencil", but when we watch cartoons, we see the same set of actions, gestures and expressions used on every character. They all come from other cartoons.

Life is full of hilarity, ripe for the picking, if you only open your eyes and observe it.

Then the other essential we need - is to be able to draw it.

Another reason we tend to rely on formula timing tricks - especially in Flash, is that it avoids the need to be able to draw. You can just zip past every pose and cushion into it, thus avoiding what actually happens in the middle.

Cartoons and graphic arts get cruder every year, mainly because we are so reliant on the computer and our handful of tricks to do all the creativity for us. All we do is press buttons and drag menu items down and that's it. We have become visually illiterate.

If we ever want to get back to being an art form or even just professional entertainment, we have to get back to the basics - good drawing and good observational skills. We have to look outside our latest trends and formulas and get ideas from everywhere. And build our drawing skills on our own time. The schools aren't gonna do it for anyone, and the studios can't afford to teach you (even if they knew how).

Whether we are doing "limited" or "full" animation, we need to have the ability to control specific ideas and make them have an emotional effect on the audience.

All these scenes are partly "limited animation" but we used "full drawings" and varied timings to make it seem a lot fuller than it is.

Here's a trick I learned from Bob Jaques - one of the cleverest animators I know - a thinking, observing cartoonist. He was always making up new techniques to make the animation more powerful and to drive the emotional meaning home. He studies old cartoons and real life and combines things he discovers in new ways to create new styles of animation.

Build pressure in the face just before a loud vowel

I was still framing the last scene from "Big House Blues" one day to see how Bob gave the animation so much punch and clarity. I noticed that Ren was saying something with a "p" in it. Bob didn't draw just a stock "P" mouth which usually is the same as a "b" or an "M". He made Ren's whole head squinch up and formed a pocket of air around his lips - as if a big pressure of emotion was building up. Then when he opened his mouth to eject a vowel, the lips burst open and forward. This technique of building a lot of tension just before a vowel, really brings the characters to life.

Later, I would be still framing Kirk Douglas movies and noticed that this happens in real life. Kirk is always full of tension and when you see his inbetweens, you witness some of the most grotesque contortions of human facial anatomy.
Ranger Smith becomes human between the acting poses.