Animation is narrative through movement. A painter expresses an idea, a story, a concept, or an emotion in a single image. An animator is tasked with the same thing, but instead of paints, brushes and colors, his job is to use posing, principles of movement, and most importantly experience and observation to communicate a concept. If I work on a single shot in a sequence of 30 shots, my ability to do my job well should be measured by the strength of my animation in so far as how it tells the story. Through my small contribution, if the viewer can be led safely down the narrative path without for a single moment questioning the validity or believability of my frames, then I know I’ve done my job well.
Narrative can be something as concrete as a physical action, like a punch, fall or jump. In this shot the character punches, or in this shot the character falls. Or narrative may be as complex as an abstract emotion such as pity, sincerity or revenge. Whatever the narrative is trying to convey, the animator’s primary and fundamental goal is to communicate the very essence of that idea in the limited frames of their shot. If you are asked to animate a punch in a particular shot, the very first question you should have is “why?” Why does the character punch? Is it an accident? Maybe he slips and falls forward, lunging out with his arms to catch his fall and accidentally punches the man beside him in the mouth? Is the punch out of anger because the person being punched slept with the character’s wife? Whatever the answer may be, when you animate a shot you must be concerned first and foremost with the character’s motivation, purpose, intention, drive, etc. You need to understand the actions in your shot contextually. What is happening in the shots surrounding yours? You must look at the animatic, read the script, analyze the storyboards, speak with the animators working on the same sequence, and listen to your supervisor as he explains in his words the purpose of your shot.
Guest Blogger Aaron Gilman