Animators these days have the most advanced applications and workstations at their disposal, and they can even incorporate the best industry hardware and software in their workflow to create stunning masterpieces from the comfort of their own bedrooms. As access to these tools has arguably leveled the playing field in computer animation, skills and talent will now more than ever be the prime differentiator; to this end, competency in decades-old animation basics will be crucial moving forward.
Though the animation landscape has changed drastically since the early days of stop motion, many hand-drawn techniques and methods rooted in the psychology of visual perception still apply, even in today’s environments. The following 5 tips can help in honing your character animation skills, regardless of the sophisticated tools in your arsenal.
1. Master Disney’s 12 Principles of Animation
Over three decades old, this classic by Disney animators Ollie Johnston and Frank Thomas is still to this day held in high regard as the animator’s bible. While it’s true that the number of self-taught computer animators keeps growing each year, with the wide availability of training materials, literature, and software on the internet, those trained in academic settings know why Disney’s 12 Principles of Animation is still a standard textbook for introductory animation courses across the world. The principles detailed in this book are still relevant for today’s computer animation techniques, and mastering its techniques will assuredly translate to an improvement in one’s skill set.
2. Learn proper motion blurring techniques
Computer animation, no matter how fantastical, imitates real objects and settings. Specifically, film cameras capture life. Audiences are accustomed to the nuances and artifacts of live action film, including the way cameras render the motion of objects and people. Motion blur is a subtle but powerful perceptual indicator that not only tells the viewer that the object is moving, but also the speed and direction it is moving. To properly convey and enforce the illusion of movement, incorporate motion blurring techniques to make your computer animations come to life.
3. Animate standing characters using unique postures
If you observe a throng of standing people in the subway, park, or other gathering place, you will notice that people's postures constitute a unique element of their persona. A teenage girl's hips may shift to one side as she's explaining a story, while someone else may slouch lazily with his arms folded, one hand holding a cigar. Whatever the case may be, people seldom stand perfectly upright. For this reason, animated characters that are standing should always do so in some distinctive manner and in a way that is appropriate for their other bodily actions, mood, or persona.
4. Use shadows to ground your characters
Shadows are crucial elements to reality -- unless you're creating a vampire, the viewer expects to see your character cast a shadow. They give a sense of depth by anchoring characters to the ground and thus are important elements to character placement and orientation. Shadows also function as important psychological triggers to an animated sequence (e.g. long shadows indicate a later time of day, which can trigger melancholy, apprehension, or fear.)
5. Adjust sharpness and colors to indicate depth
By mimicking the shallow depth of field of a film camera, one can instantly give their animations the illusion of depth. By blurring the background objects and setting, you reinforce the believability of your character to the eye. Colors can also be used to indicate depth -- by using strong, saturated colors in the foreground subjects and muted, unsaturated colors in the background, sequences and character within seem more realistic to the eye.