The Art Babbitt Classical Animation Course – Page 4

The use of live action as a source of information for animators brings me to Eadweard Muybridge. He set up a series of matching cameras, in a row. These cameras were
tripped successively by a galloping horse hitting the wires which activated the camera mechanisms. The original purpose of the experiment was to prove Muybridge’s contention that a galloping horse has all four feet off the ground at some point during the act of galloping. The resulting photos proved his point … and when those photos were flipped rapidly the horse in action miraculously came to life.

In a similar manner, an animator creates a series of successive drawings – which when photographed and projected simulated life. The very word “ANIMATION” for our purpose means “TO ENDOW WITH LIFE”.

In our business, ANIMATION might entail a task as simple as a dot moving from place to place … a box opening by itself – or a flag waving in the breeze – or flames flickering in a fire¬ place. In its more complex form, animation might be used to caricature a humorous or dramatic situation, involving one or more characters to portray an exaggerated, invented ballet dance – or simulate a terrifying earthquake.

We cannot photograph the 21st century version of a supersonic plane, in action – but we can show the action by means of drawings. With the same sorcery, we can show a couple of extinct dinosaurs doing a Polka.

Underlying Themes

As we touch on the technical and mechanical aspects of animation we will continue to hammer away on the underlying essential facets of knowledge we must nurture to truly master our craft.

We must develop our analytical capabilities in much the same way as an actor prepares for a role. We must learn to dissect a story and search out its plot, its highlights, its philosophy, if any – its psychology, its message – its humour – its tragedy, its conflicts – its characterisations.

We must learn to consider a scene in relationship to the story as a whole – to the scene preceding – to the scene following. Within each scene we must make decisions on how we will go about portraying the physical aspects of a character’s behaviour – how he walks, talks, breathes or responds to another character. We must determine what values we will assign to secondary characters and how to showcase what we feel is worth stressing.

We must sharpen our sense of TIMING. How long does it take to accomplish a certain action – in terms of one twenty-fourth of a second for each frame of film? When to exaggerate the speed or slowness of an action. When to hold a pose – and for how long – to make it valid or amusing. We must learn to invent – to escape from literal translations of what we encounter or visualize. We must learn to create movements if necessary that are caricatures of reality – but done with such guile they are always convincing.

We must expand our sense of caricature – to realise that we are not simply exaggerating external appearances – but more important -the inner character – the mood – the situation. A caricature is a satirical essay – not just doubling the size of a bulbous nose.

We must hone our sense of humour – our sense of taste -our sense of design – our sense of composition – our sense of rhythm.

We must understand our audiences and their view point. We must become actors -without make-up. We must be imbued with respect and integrity for our profession and we must know the mechanics of those actions.

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Printed in Animator’s newsletter Issue 10 (Autumn 1984)