Personally, I use thumbnails and Flipbook during my planning stages. I quickly explore the poses and breakdowns I want, not worried about drawing mistakes and only concerned with how clear it reads. Flipbook just helps me experiment with the timing of the poses I've figured out on paper, and it's a more intuitive alternative, at least for me, than shifting around that thin red keyframe mark in Maya. Once that's down, I pretty much use that information to transfer into Maya.
How would you go about figuring out the correct timing of your work just on paper? I usually never know until I've seen it in a sequence of some kind, and that's where Flipbook plays its hand. So, something that I think may only need 5 frames on paper, may possibly need more or less. How can you ever be sure when you haven't seen any kind of playback?
Again, this is a personal workflow choice that may change as you gain experience. Animators determine their shot timing using a variety of methods, the most common is using video reference. Your reference will give a good basic idea of the timing of actions and poses. Just remember that as an animator you are exaggerating life, not copying it directly (rotoscoping), so don’t use the exact frame count timing of your reference. Instead, use it as a guideline. Dialogue shots also make timing easier because you have audio timing on which to base the actions. For example, you know that you have 10 frames between the time the character says “You are..” and “…the plague” so you base the character’s “hits” around those 10 frames.
Many animators use the blocking pass to determine their timing. In the same way that you may adjust a frame hold longer or shorter in Flipbook you can grab a blocked pose in your 3d software and shift it left or right in the timeline and playblasting it. You stated Flipbook is more intuitive which is why this is a personal workflow choice, there is no one right answer! Use the workflow that accomplishes the goal in the shortest amount of time! You don’t need the “correct” timing established before your begin blocking (or possibly first pass of splining) your animation. You should have a good idea of the timing but there is nothing wrong adjusting your poses 1-8 frames in either direction during your early passes. But, if you have to adjust your poses 20+ frames to fix the timing, then either you have a really slow shot with no movement or you don’t have enough poses blocked! Again, don’t spend too much time determing the “correct” timing in Flipbook if you are only going to adjust it again in Maya as you move from blocking to splining.
Finally, timing is something that is learned with practice and experience. In the beginning, you may use Flipbook to plan your timing but after a few years you may just know how many frames it takes to move a hand/foot/etc to the pose you want!
Animation Mentor Staff