By Roland Hess
From the hallowed halls of Disney came twelve principles of animation that have shaped contemporary and traditional animation techniques and workflows. Tradigital Blender bridges the gap between the twelve principles of animation and your own digital work in Blender. Here we discuss three of the twelve principles – Squash & Stretch, Anticipation, and Staging.
Squash and Stretch
In real life, when you jump from your porch and land on the ground, your knees and spine bend to absorb the impact. They only bend at the joints though, obviously. The bones themselves don’t compress or flex in any noticeable fashion. If they did, it would be… bad. Likewise, if you were to slice your hand quickly through the air (kiya!), your hand would stay the same shape, no matter how fast you did it. In the world of animation, this is not the case. Depending on how stylized your animation will be, and how drastic the motions involved, actually squashing and stretching the otherwise rigid structures of the body can add life to the final result.
In Fig. 1.2, you can see Junot flying (or falling). Both the extended arm and the body itself have been stretched a bit. The effect isn’t drastic, and in this case, you might not have even noticed due to the foreshortening introduced by the camera angle. But it’s in there, and if used for a brief moment in the middle of a fast action, it would add life to the animation, helping to emphasize her high forward velocity.
Let’s meet one more character: Smith. Smith is the same basic puppet as Meyer and Junot, but he has been given cartoon-like proportions. A character like Smith can endure a lot more squash and stretch during animation than his more realistically proportioned siblings. Fig. 1.3 shows Smith landing from a leap, with and without squash and stretch.
The rules are this: the faster the action, the more squash and stretch you need. The more realistic the character, the less you should use. So, a character like Smith who is bouncing around the room like Daffy Duck will
most likely exhibit some extreme squash and stretch. If Junot and Meyer were sitting on a park bench playing a game of chess, they would have almost none.
In Fig. 1.4, Meyer is about to throw a devastating punch. What’s that you say? He isn’t? Clearly, Meyer does not look like someone who is about to strike. Myths about Bruce Lee being able to deliver a devastating blow from mere inches away without any kind of wind up aside, when one person—and thus, a character—does something, one almost always anticipates the action. The larger or more forceful the final action, the correspondingly big the anticipation must be to make it feel right.
Anticipation helps to bring balance to your animation, not in the sense of left-to-right or in making sure that the character’s weight makes sense over its points of support, but balance in time. What comes after necessitates that something comes before. We don’t think about it in those terms when we go about our daily lives, but that is only because our bodies are so good about planning ahead for us. Almost constantly, our bodies are one step ahead of us, preparing themselves for the next thing that they already know we are going to do. What happens when our bodies don’t plan properly and that anticipation doesn’t happen? We turn around and walk into the door (or flying ball, or car) we didn’t see and a whole different branch of physics takes over. Additionally, anticipation can be used to grab and direct the viewer’s attention. Not only does it provide the proper physics, but it also shouts “Look what I’m about to do!” (Fig. 1.5).
Admittedly, that’s a drastic anticipatory pose. It is pushed to the point that his body is breaking up, and you almost can’t read it. I’m not even going to show you the fully skinned version. There is lots of pinching and nastiness. However, this type of extreme anticipation pose wouldn’t show for more than a couple of frames, and the human eye isn’t fast enough to note it in detail. Coupled with some motion blur, it will give an impression of extreme motion, great force and life, just before impact.
My preferred term for this is “Composition” because I think more photographically (Get the shot!) than theatrically (Places everyone!), but it amounts to the same thing. Where is everything on “stage?” How does it actually look in the camera? Where is the viewer going to be focused? Cinematographers have developed an entire language for directing the viewer’s attention to different elements on the screen, and we get to borrow heavily from them. While we can use all of their tricks—lighting, color, focus, contrast, etc.—the basics will have to come first.
Fig. 1.6 shows Junot feeling sad. Well, it does if you can find her. Nothing about this composition favors the subject or theme. The eye is directed far away from her by the lighting, which is too bright and cheery to begin with. She is too small in the frame compared to her surroundings, and the proportions of the piece are all off.
However, if we take the exact same objects, compose the shot differently, and apply a different lighting scheme, we get something like Fig. 1.7 that is much more suggestive, and certainly more in keeping with the subject matter. There is no question what the focus of the shot is supposed to be and the visual lines of the light and the ground itself point us to Junot. Not every shot must be a stylistic masterpiece, but you at least need to make sure that your staging isn’t fighting against your animation. Your animation will lose…
Check back for principles 4-12 in future posts.
Excerpted from Tradigital Blender, by Roland Hess. © 2011, Elsevier, Inc. All rights reserved.