Thursday, November 5, 2009
Limited Animation vs. Drawing Movement
Michael Sporn wrote a great post last week about limited animation and it got me thinking about my feelings on the subject. The limited animation I love (Dr. Katz, The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle, South Park) tends to rely on incredibly strong writing and/or soundtracks. When the right balance is struck, its hard to imagine these shows any other way. I certainly wouldn't want Dr. Katz to move like it was directed by Richard Williams. I don't need Dr. Katz to move at all.
My personal beef with limited animation began long before Flash came along. As an animation student, it was really disheartening to see so many of my classmates splitting their characters up into separate levels so they could do the least amount of work. Seldom did they split layers so to emphasize only one specific movement, which would be a justified use of the technique. They split up a character because it was a time-save, and it supplied the feeling that they were using professional studio techniques. After all, this was how commercial studio jobs were done, so why not work that way?
In the days of cel animation you could split up a character only so many times. After four or five cel levels a character would grey down the artwork so much that the scene could turn to mud. Now, when many think of 2D, they automatically think of Flash. In this program (or in any digital 2D animation program) we have unlimited layers. We can split up a character into a project or symbol that contains hundreds of individual bits of art. And this is the system that has taken over as the main way 2D animation is produced for TV and the web. And it's hard to argue with the economic benefits. Such a production system is ideal for both in-house and virtual studio production lines.
So what is my beef with limited animation? Or in particular, with most Flash animation? I find it incredibly dull to watch. There are no surprises. There's only a rigid character puppet made up of pieces that hinge at set anchor points. In short, when you animate with a puppet such as this, you are not only NOT DRAWING, you are specifically NOT DRAWING MOVEMENT. In worst of Flash animation, the animator makes poses and then adds mathematical tweens calculated by the computer. The result is as dull as it sounds.
The series of shorts that I'm making for Sesame Workshop requires me to work very quickly. I am completing each 30 second animated spot in one week's time. This breaks down into one day to build a storyboard animatic (including writing the spot!), one day to design the characters/background layouts, two days to animate, and one day to color/composite. With such a time crunch you could think that my only option would be to animate with Flash puppets, but I refuse to do so.
Instead, I draw everything directly on my cintiq. This saves a need for scanning and processing the scans. I draw in photoshop where I can select a nice pen tool that recreates the feeling of traditional drawing. And because I AM DRAWING, I can DRAW MOVEMENT. This means that I have a real shot at these spots looking visually exciting. When you draw, the process itself is spontaneous. Something magic can happen when you put pen to paper (or cintiq, in my case). I'm often surprised at the choices I make as I go. That keeps the process fun for me and on a fast paced schedule like this, having fun is very important.
Above are a set of stills from my latest Sesame Workshop film (background art by Adrian Urquidez). I cringe to think what the action would look like had I decided to use a Flash puppet. I really dig distortion in a character. I don't mind if a character goes off model as they move, since movement should be about a feeling (not a matter of mathematics). I wonder if the worst byproduct of all this Flash animation these days is that, through an emphasis on economy and ease, it encourages NOT THINKING. Maybe that's why my brain turns off when I watch it.