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The following is an excerpt from The Animator’s Eye: Adding Life to Animator with Timing, Layout, Design, Color and Sound by Francis Glebas. In The Animator’s Eye,  Francis teaches you how to become a strong visual storyteller through better use of color, volume, shape, shadow, and light – as well as discover how to tap into your imagination and refine your own personal vision. Here, Francis explains the importance of timing!

BUNNY: What is the key to comedy?

IGGY: Hmmm, I’m thinking, wait don’t tell me, ah, oh yeah … timing.

BUNNY: C’mon, we’re late …

What kinds of time exist in animation? Ironically, timing in animation is really about space. The space between the drawings determines how fast an object moves. An object’s weight factors into this, as it takes longer to get a heavy object moving and longer to stop it. Time, space, and mass are interconnected in animation.

How far do you space the drawings? Usually you want some overlap. If it’s something moving really fast, blur it and have the blurs overlap. If the spacing is too far apart the phenomenon won’t work; instead it will look like different events. If they are very close you have to be very careful with your cleanups.

Where does our sense of time come from? We humans have internal clocks that keep time for our biological processes. Our heart rate, breathing, sleep patterns, walking pace all are variable within certain ranges. Originally many songs were used to set the pace for working in the fields.

An animated action is comprised of three separate times: the time of expectancy of anticipation, the screen time of the action, and time for closure of the action. These can be notated in timing charts or on exposure sheets.

Here are some things to think about when timing your exposure sheets.

1 Time for Clarity

The audience needs time to process the animation. Be sure to include pauses, pacing for breath, bodily perception.

2 Time for Excitement

High-speed illusions are created by speed lines that depict the blurring of objects in the direction of motion.

3 Contrast Your Timing

If everything is evenly spaced it becomes predictable and thus boring. Ever drive on a highway at night watching the dotted lines race along, one after another, after another?

Variation adds interest. Try having slow characters interact with fast-moving characters. The tortoise and the hare has long been a staple of many cartoons. Bugs Bunny often took the starring role of the hare. The collected cartoon variations of the tortoise and the hare are great examples of permutations of a simple story idea.

PRINCIPLE: Slow In and Slow Out

Acceleration and deceleration add lots of interest to animation, particularly if you include overshoot and settling.

4 When NOT to Add Inbetweens

There are times when you will not want to use inbetweens, such as between the heel of a foot hitting and the full foot smacking ground, or to keep the full speed of gravity on a falling object.

5 Remember, People Get Tired

Time also affects energy levels. We can’t be at extremely high energy levels for a long time. We must have periods of rest. Time-related art reflects this. Sometimes the audience needs a break. Some nonstop action movies make us exhausted and if the filmmaker doesn’t give time to catch our breath, we can begin to lose interest.

Iggy’s roller coaster theory of story incorporates these pauses automatically. As the roller coaster reaches a peak it begins to slow down, before speeding up again down the next hill.

Believable depictions of a character should account for characters getting tired. They can’t keep going on without rest. Going from one energy level to the next takes time. When you first wake up, you don’t immediately begin racing around the room. You have some coffee and wait for it to kick you into gear. I know I have trouble winding down at night when my mind is racing with ideas. Include those timing changes in your animation. You could make a very funny short about a character just getting up, dead tired, and going from 0 to 60 until he becomes just a blur.

6 Timing for Believability of Weight

You have to time your animation based upon laws of motion so things don’t float. Timing is based upon inertia and momentum and the acceleration of gravity. It takes time to get something moving and time to get it to stop. The faster it’s moving, the more time it needs to stop unless it impacts something.

Excerpt from The Animator’s Eye: Adding Life to Animation with Timing, Layout, Design, Color, and Sound by Francis Glebas © 2012 Taylor & Francis Group. All Rights Reserved. The Animator’s Eye can be purchased,, and wherever fine books can be found.

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