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Harvey Rothman @Shufflehound

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Animation thoughts

Posted by Shufflehound - September 25th, 2020


I'm ill and not fit for much so thought I'd avoid juggling words for 20 minutes on that stupid 280 character limit site and try NG's blog.So for now, some short rants/thoughts that come off the top of my head regarding animation.


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Does anyone ever consider that most screen-time is usually showing inbetween drawings? Inbetweens are the indistinct after-thought drawings for the most part, and the ratio of inbetweens vs extremes only gets more ridiculous the closer we are to "full animation".


Even more crazy, is the prevalence of the inbetween drawing directly preceding or following a key drawing being cleaner than the key. It's no more solid, it's practically tracing the sloppy key. All in the name of having smooth easing in/out.


The solution is to treat every drawing as a key, extreme, or breakdown in of itself. And what few inbetweens you have left, give them something interesting to do. Let viewers register the drawings you're most proud of, while giving a unique performance that can either be zany, or get deeper into the psyche of your character or idea than any easing out ever will.


This isn't some exclusive anime-frame-rate vs. Disney ones rant. The point is bang-for-the-buck. Only the "buck" isn't strictly led by cost. It's to double-check if this specific drawing is worth existing; worth reducing other, more interesting, drawings' screen time. Smoothing everything out can condense time, and can lose focus. You can significantly hamper your "bang" by increasing the "buck".


Some animations I'd watch as a kid couldn't be arsed to animate anything complicated at all. If a characters riding off into the sunset, they'd just have 5 keys and cross-fade between them! And there's nothing wrong with that at all; it's dream like, saves time, and the animators' mental health. Would you get away with that today? Probably not because since tween animations out of fashion again, directors want their smooth tweeny animation only done traditionally. Good morning, RSI!


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What's with sakuga people making up terminology that no animator has ever said or thought about before? Framerate modulation, what the hell's that? It's like critics who just make up theoretical/philosophical terms to appear clever. No one will question your word if you just made them up, I suppose.


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"Animating on twos is an economic answer to an artistic question." says the man who couldn't finish a film which sole purpose was to boast excess. Look at how much money has gone into making the animation smooth!


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I think it's especially important for children's animation to be obvious how they were made. I really enjoyed Tom & Jerry as a kid, but they were magic pristine shapes. I'd never seen acetate sheets used for anything other than over-head projections. I also watched such Smallfilms as The Clangers and Ivor the Engine, and Bob Godfrey's studio's Roobarb. They were each made on tiny budgets and couldn't be more obvious how they were produced. The Clangers were knitted mouse creatures with holes in their feet so they could be mounted to the floor; Ivor the Engine were watercolour drawings, cut-out and floating around under the camera rostrum. Roobarb was drawn with Magic Markers, wobbling and boiling moving at a frame rate that even a child could identify as induvidual drawings. Had I never seen these, and only saw Tom & Jerry and Spongebob, I probably would never have given animation much more of a thought.

The irony of this "be honest with your medium" moral is that doesn't leave much for digital animation. It's possibly even dishonest of me to recreate the effects of film and paint in my digitally composited and coloured works. (Which kind of ties into my hypocritical rant about everything now trying to resemble the "artful" media of the past although this is already getting long winded)


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Speaking of responsibilities often neglected when it comes to children's animation, I like to think of what Oliver Postgate has to say about the logic of The Clangers:

"They're surreal but logical. I have a strong prejudice against fantasy for its own sake. Once one gets to a point beyond where cause and effect mean anything at all, then science fiction becomes science nonsense. Everything that happened was strictly logical according to the laws of physics which happened to apply in that part of the world."

https://web.archive.org/web/20081226021416/http://www.bbc.co.uk/cult/news/cult/2005/04/27/18961.shtml


I don't blame kids for the way they behave looking back based on what obnoxious trite they played on the telly since 20 or so years ago. Doesn't inspire thought, neither artistically or curiosity; just shovels down colourful and noisy screaming shapes and ties it up with in a non-sequitur "eat your vegetables" bow.


And while I'm just plonking quotes, here's what Bob Godfrey had to say about his animation (retold by Richard Williams):

"He said 'The trouble was, these animators, the professionals are all stuck in a rut. And the amateurs aren't good enough. I'm an am-pro. Am-pro is the solution!'"

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/uk-21557277


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I haven't proof read any of this yet, still a bit delirious and headachey. But curious how any of this is received by other animators. Thanks for reading!


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Comments (4)

Great stuff Harvey! I'd love to read (and write) more extended posts like this on here. I'm sick of twitter's character limit too, I miss blogs!

I've thought about the in-betweens vs keys screentime ratio too. It is crazy that as much as we can struggle over getting the keys right, they often have no more time onscreen than the other drawings. It really is a question of bang-for-your-buck in terms of effort put in. More in-betweens =/= better animation although sometimes out of desperation I try to disguise weak animation by making it smoother.

I do sometimes roll my eyes at people making up terms, but I think it makes sense when it's trying to give a name to something that didn't have one. 'Framerate modulation' is one I've seen floating around online for at least 15 years and I don't know what else you'd call it. I think I first saw it used on Anipages to describe Yasuo Otsuka's animation in the 1968 Horus film by Isao Takahata. I don't know if it actually came from Japanese animators of that time, or was retroactively applied to the technique in the 2000s by fans.

Heheh I like your comment on Williams. What a strange figure he was, both as a person and what he represents to different factions of animators. He was clearly incredibly talented, but maybe the biggest example of why perfectionism is a dead end creatively and practically. And in so much of his work you can see a huge chasm between 'skill' and 'taste.'

I love Smallfilms/Postgate and Bob Godfrey's work! I hadn't thought about that stuff much lately, so thanks for reminding me I need to track down theSmallfilms artbook. I completely agree that the technique being so obvious really helped spark an interest in trying animation, and didn't detract from my enjoyment (that's a pet peeve of mine, Disney-school people arguing that if you can see how a piece of animation was made it's a failure). I love how small the teams were on some of those shows, just a handful of 'am-pros' trying to make something fun with whatever materials they had. It feels so pure.

For similar reasons I also loved the 70s Paddington Bear, and 80s Thomas the Tank Engine (not strictly animation but similarly obvious in how it was made).

Hopefully this post will motivate me to do some writing too. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

Thanks!

A bit of smoothness here and there can be nice. I liked the use of ones drawing attention to itself in Mind Game (2003), as if to say "this is smoother than (this world's) reality itself".

I'm a bit pedantic and think there should be a clear distinction between framerate and the number of exposures per drawing at a fixed framerate.
It's one of those techniques I think some animators just "do" without needing a name; it's not an industry procedure like inbetweens which needs the terminology for communicating to assistants etc.
Once it's formalised and taught "this is how you do framerate modulation" it's no longer artistic expression, discovered individually, their own way. Kind of like smooth inbetweens haven't really got much "art" to them besides polish. Sounding very artsy-lofty now, sorry!

Williams seemed to be somehow both enigmatic but also totally predictable.

Oh, are Roobarb and Smallfilms both well known in Canada? (Actually people can't reply back on NG can they oops) The book's absolutely fantastic, a pure labour of love.
One thing that's frustrating to me is I'd like to capture that same magic and joy I feel coming from screen shared by the folks who made those shorts. Yet by the mere attempting to "replicate" it, I'm doomed to failure. You can't force/engineer a "natural" look really. It's like these 60 million dollar puppet films coming out the past couple decades. Yeah, I'm not really feeling the warmth and small-scale magic stop-motion should exude (whether they're nostalgic for it or now).

Yes! They're both great too.

You reminded me to follow your blog, now I have a blogger account. Some great posts, like the one about promo.

Hey Sublo!

'framerate modulation' is one of those things where I know what they mean but it definitely wasn't the best choice of words - it implies you're changing the actual fps or something. (Which would be a cool thing to be able to do for real!) Also people going out of their way to try and coin a term always rubs me weird, like they're trying to project an air of authority or something

I used to be of the opinion that if you put an inbetween right in the middle of two drawings then it was contributing no information & was therefore pointless, but I don't think I would assert that now - I think I was just rebelling against the Richard wisdom. Of course I still think the idea of putting everything on ones is just as dumb. Nowadays I feel like going out and proclaiming any one technique is 'superior' to another is just taking tools out of your toolkit. Not saying you were saying anything like that - just offering a general "how I feel about those kinds of discussions in the year 2020" - that is to say, sometimes people will be overly-dismissive about one way of doing things for the sake of justifying some arbitrary preference.

brb modulating between 25, 24 and 23.976fps. Actually it would be pretty cool, 'cause "ones" at 15-20fps looks really nice to me.

Yeah, avoiding the middle's good for giving the impression one of the two poses has more time to read (whereas in the middle, it's vague). But snappy timing can get just as tiresome. Putting something in the middle, but give it something interesting about it, gives the "verbs" (keys) "adverbs" (how it's done) terrible analogy but yeah.

Oh there's no radical one size fits all, sometimes you do just have to evenly space something on ones, but that's the extremely rare exception. No, I agree, the point being is not to do the same thing constantly and get bored. The weirdest idea/technique you're just "blind" to within 10 minutes, which is both good (getting used to the new style) and bad (you can't ride on style with a bad plot for too long).

@Aaron-Long @Shufflehound hmm looks like I can do a reply-to-a-reply on here after all. Thanks for checking out my blog! Can you send me a link to yours?

Yeah I don't like the idea of 'framerate modulation' becoming a standardized 'trick of the trade' taught in schools. Discovering those techniques on your own or through analyzing particular work you like seems like a better way to develop a personal style organically. Even smears and multiples feel overused and misunderstood these days, they're almost fetishized in a weird way. I feel like the whole point of those techniques is to not notice them... but whatever, people can animate however they like.

I've been using less smears the past few years, at least less 'full-body' smears. I think right now I prefer the snap and punch of leaving the space in between the drawings, rather than filling that space with the smear. Back to framerate modulation, lately I do like briefly switching to ones for emphasis on disturbingly smooth little movements. Like how you described the use in Mind Game.

About the fancy recent puppet films, I assume you mean Laika? I've liked their recent stuff less and less as it's gotten more smooth and reliant on CG. If you're animating the face in CG and then just 3D printing every frame, I feel it loses a lot of the appeal and almost hits the uncanny valley.
btw I just got Oliver Postgate's memoir "Seeing Things" in the mail tonight, looking forward to reading it.