Don Bluth’s Animation Class

Don Bluth of Don Bluth Entertainment, Dublin, Ireland, has presented mini-seminars on animation for the benefit of his staff. The following article is based on a recording of one of these seminars.

Shapes: Exercise and Impact.

A character, regardless of what he is made out of, is going to stretch and snap to some degree. This is true of all things, both animated and inanimate objects; a dog, a cat, even an iron kettle is going to stretch to some extent. This is something unique about animation; in live action you do not see this.

This is important because I’ve seen several scenes where our characters are doing something and, although it appears to be animated correctly, it still looks stiff. We see them stretch and snap, but we do not see elasticity before the character releases or the recoil afterward. By putting in these tiny nuances your animation will be better, more animated and more fun to look at.

To illustrate this, we’re going to show these effects on a marshmallow. Imagine a little marshmallow perched on a little golf tee (fig. 1). The marshmallow is anchored on the ground at what we’ll call the anchor point.

Now, imagine that an invisible force reaches out and begins to pull on Mr. Marshmallow. What you want to get is the idea that something is grabbing it and pulling (fig. 2). When you look at the drawings you should have a feeling that something solid is being pulled and you should actually feel it in the drawing. Imagine a little hand, pulling on our model (see arrow). Notice the little clinch lines on the edge? (second arrow). Here is where the illusion in animation comes into play. It appears that there is a force acting on solid matter.

Now, of course, the marshmallow will give at one point and break. but we are still not pulling hard enough for that to happen. Meanwhile, keep the golf tee riveted at the anchor point; the tee should bend, but not too much. It helps give the feeling that something is being ripped or pulled. This elasticity should happen in all your drawings, faces, whole bodies, in arms; if the arms are going to grab on to something and pull, you should stretch them.

Finally, we get to the point where the force pulling on our marshmallow is so great, it has to rip (fig. 4). In your drawings, you want to show that explosion; that maximum stretch and that release. You want to feel, as you look at that the drawing, that the marshmallow was stretched and ripped.

Now comes the critical part, in the moment right after the release, our marshmallow should be whipped back in reaction to the force that was exerted on it (fig. 5). That reaction is key because it shows the response of the marshmallow after the snap. You would be very surprised how far you have to draw something in animation to get it to read normally. Having the marshmallow just collapse back to its first position (fig. 1) is insufficient; it doesn’t happen that war. In real life, there is always a certain amount of “bounce back”.

Finally, the marshmallow should naturally return to its initial position. This is another error point: most people forget that this is where the arc of action established between figures four and five are made. This is another spot where frequent errors are made: you will often find people who lose this arc.

An object should not just return to “rest”. but should bounce back. You have to go in there and mark where those arcs are going to fall and make sure you do not have one drawing that jumps out of the arc (spots marked with an ‘N”). You want to strive for something that is fluid. Identify that all of ~our drawings fall in the arc (spots marked “Y’).

We could get pretty elaborate with this, but the basic thing I want to put across in this particular exercise is the stretch before the snap (fig. 3) and how the marshmallow reverses in the other direction in reaction to the release of that force (fig. 5). The best way to check this is to watch how the shapes change yourself and check and make sure that all these elements appear in your drawings. If done correctly, these principles will improve the quality of our animation.

Thanks to Jeb Seibel, Publicity Manager, Don Bluth Entertainment USA, for help in preparing this article.

Printed in Animator Issue 30 (Spring 1993)