Animation techniques such as cut-outs,
clay, paint-on-glass, charcoal on paper etc, make use of a method loosely described
as straight-ahead animation' in which the animator starts
at the beginning of a sequence and works through to the end. This
method is often dictated by the medium which animator is using to create images - the paint or sand, or objects being manipulated. It is a technique which can produce great moments of inspired spontaneity. Ideas come as one plays around with
the medium and these can be easily incorporated into the sequence mid-stream
without the audience being any the wiser. The animated films of William Kentridge who draws with charcoal on larges sheets of paper are examples of this method. Drawing straight in to Flash with a graphics tablet using the 'light box' or 'onion skin' tool can also employ a straight-ahead' animation method.
But what happens if our cut-outs or clay character misses its cue?
Once the parts have been moved, the painted image smudged and destroyed or the plasticine deformed, it is
extremely difficult to go back and correct mistakes. A completely
different way of working to help solve this problem is the key
drawing animation method, also called 'pose to pose' animation.
'Key poses', key drawings or just 'keys' are terms used to describe those critical positions of an animated character
or an object which depict the extreme points in its
path of motion, or accents in its expression or mood.
For this reason they are also called 'extremes'.
POSE-TO-POSE ANIMATION METHOD
of animating from one pose to the next, hence the term 'pose to pose' animation, allows the animator to map out the action in advance
with sign posts by charting up these key poses onto
exposure sheets or dope sheets, or indeed into the timeline of computer software. It is a particularly useful animation method when a character must perform
certain tasks within a predetermined time or where a series of actions must
synchronise accurately with a recorded sound track. The technique helps
ensure that characters arrive at a particular place on screen at
a precise point in time.
When developing key poses, its a good idea to experiment with
thumb-nail sketches first to refine the poses and ideas. Initially, the animators key poses may be nothing more than
rough scribbles to block out the action. This is often done with a blue pencil. There is no point doing
lots and lots of highly finished drawings at this stage if the action
does not work. Besides, working roughly and quickly sketching out the main shapes, forms and lines of action knowing that these drawings are just a first step in a bigger process, always leads to fresher animation.
The key pose technique is still the most widely used
method of animating. It is also the method of choice within most
2D and 3D digital animation packages these days. Sequences can be tested and individual poses can be re-worked and the animation progressively improved.
The exposure sheet or timeline is continually revised to provide an accurate
record of how the animation is to be photographed or rendered. This production method
also provides a logical way of breaking down work so that it can
be handed on to other people in the production chain.
|An illustration showing how an animator might work in rough scribbles to find the key masses and shapes and then to refine various lines of action to give the drawing purpose and intent before finally fleshing in the character's final form.
|This sequence is from Dann Dann the Dunny Man and is used with the kind permission of past graduate, Peter Viska, Viskatoons.
This is a fine example of working rough to get key poses sorted to describe the action in an expressive manner. This character is handled in a very dynamic way using lots of exaggeration, anticipation and squash and stretch. It also demonstrates how such tests can block out the action in both space and time.
|"It occurred to me years ago that my animation process was a lot like my writing process — the first draft was never as good as what was in my head; the more passes I made, the better it got; repetitive phrasing was bad; clarity was good; specificity and authenticity were paramount, and so on. Both are solitary, time-consuming processes, requiring a solid command of a special language." - Kevin Koch 2007
Obviously when planning a set of key poses for a shot or scene, the animator needs to be acutely aware of the requirements of the script and the particular actions and events that are necessary to progress the storyline. Background layouts will define an 'acting space' while storyboard frames will indicate the 'business' of each shot. What is entirely under the animator's control is the way the character 'acts' out these events as informed by an understanding of the character's personality traits, visual design and current emotional state. The key pose planning process goes hand-in-hand with the idea of staging each action in such a way that it 'reads' well and communicates clearly. Several key drawings might be required to describe the sub-movements
involved in even the most simple of actions - taking a pair of socks
out of a drawer, for example. If we were to go straight from the
first drawing of our character standing by the cupboard to the final
position with socks in hand, the result would appear as if a pair
of socks had just magically appeared in our heros hand. Obviously
there is information missing which has to be seen by the audience
to explain just how the socks got into the characters hand.
|Roll your mouse back and forth over the character above.
Consider the above information. The story may call for the character to get a pair of socks out of the drawer, but if these are the only poses we use, the effect is of the socks appearing out of thin air. We often need a number of key poses to adequately explain even the simplest of actions.
To tell the full story we need to break down this simple action
into several steps. We need to see the character standing by the
cupboard, reaching for the drawer, pulling open the drawer, dipping
a hand in, and finally extracting the socks. Each of these poses,
including squash and stretch, anticipations and any poses which use exaggeration, are treated
as a separate key pose.
|Roll you mouse onto the above image to see exactly how those socks got out of the drawer.
Animation usually operates in the realm of caricature in which exaggeration becomes an important factor in order to capture the spirit of the action being depicted. Good strong key poses emphasise and communicate the intent of an action more
efficiently than ill-considered ones. Put simply, strong keys lead to strong animation. It is therefore vital to spend time
and thought working out the key poses until they do their job as expressively as
possible as it will pay dividends as if these work well. "Limited" styles of animation are based on keys
only, and this labour saving technique does not necessarily affect
the audience's enjoyment of a piece.
|Although these drawings are perfectly static, they are nevertheless highly expressive, possessing a dynamic quality that suggests action. Such poses are the beginning of strong animated sequences.
As animators work out the key poses of a particular sequence, they also find it helpful to consider whether or not the action works well if reduced to a silhouette. Staging the action of hands gesturing immediately in front of the body may not be as effective as staging this action in profile where the various shapes and forms can be seen in a way that does not rely on the challenge of drawing complex foreshortening.
Poses should have both function - depicting the physical extreme of an action or setting up the character for an action to follow by loading its 'muscles', and impact - an expressive pose with a dynamic quality that implies what has gone before, what is about to come, and which registers and emphasises the inner emotional state of the character.
Animation is an illusion requiring the audience to suspend its disbelief. The audience can be absolutely engaged within the stories we tell and the world of characters that we create. However the illusion is a very delicate one, and alas, it is all too easy to remind the audience that they are merely looking at a series of drawings, a puppet, or a moving computer model.
To sustain this illusion, in a sense, we also have to infer the physical laws of our animated world in such a way that they are not in conflict with our day-to-day experience of natural laws we observe in the real world. These laws can be represented in an incidental way by how your character moves about its setting. Your key poses, therefore, should also show how the character carries its own weight - is one leg relaxed while the other supports the entire weight of its body? Is the body of the character under some physical strain from carrying, pushing or pulling a heavy object? Perhaps you need shift the character's weight off-centre to counter-balance the object it is carrying. What is its state of balance or indeed unbalance? Consider
the 'line of action', the main mass of the character and and what happens to these masses when your character propels itself from a resting position - there must be at least one firmly locked down a contact point with the ground (usually a foot) so that the forces involved in getting your character moving can be seen to pass through its body to this contact point making the action believable. The slippage of feet upon the ground at inappropriate times, is one sure way of shattering this illusion.
When learning how to animate for the first time, get up out of your chair and act out the action you are trying to represent. Feel where your limbs are space, what you muscles are using, the contact points you have with the stable environment, and how the weight of your body is being supported.
If your all your key poses are correctly
thought out and timed, you will have no trouble in getting all your
ideas across to an audience. Flick your key drawings from one to
the next to ensure that the poses you have chosen work well together.
It is usually only after all the key poses of a scene have been
timed out on the exposure sheet and tested, that the animator or
their assistant returns to add the inbetween drawings.
In larger traditional animation studios, these numbered drawings are handed
on to an assistant to further clean up and refine according to character
model sheets. Once tested, an inbetweener adds the required
number of drawings between each key pose as prescribed by the animators
dope sheets. A clean-up artist will tidy up all the drawings ready
for tracing. In digital production, a computer software package can inbetween for you, but it does not follow that computer software understands how things move in the real world.
Key poses describe WHAT happens, but not necessarily HOW it happens.
"Sorry. I don't have time to stop and pose for you now. I'm too busy walking"