Animation is a vast subject with a lot of opinions, mediums and formats. You have cartoons, you have high-end CG, computer games, corporate animation, feature animation and infographics (to name only a few). Not every animator is equipped to casually do all of them well, in the same way that an athlete isn't equipped to compete in every althletic event. Although you might think a humble infographic animator has no shot at animating a feature film performance shot, it's also equally unlikely that a Pixar animator would be able to handle the harsh schedules and daily expectations of a corporate project. How would Glen Keane react if a project manager told him his time was up, to export what he's got and move onto a new shot?!
Glen Keane, for those who don't know, is a highly acclaimed Disney character animator, known for his work on films such as Beauty and the Best, Tarzan and Tangled. Keane will have months to prepare for a character he is animating. He normally has a hand in designing them and thinks carefully about how they will perform in each shot before even drawing a single image.
Top end feature animators are known for researching their characters in great depth, sometimes going away on trips to the jungle, to the zoo, or hiring in biologists to lecture about anatomy. A feature animator's priorities are to achieve highly believable performance animation which the audience can empathise with and which moves us along a story or character arc effectively.
Animation shots are reviewed by the director and other colleges and often work is altered, reenvisioned and reshot in the pursuit of perfection. Of course, feature films have schedules and budgets too and not all feature projects are so wealthy in time and money!
Infographic animation is an entirely different art. Character performance is rarely an aspect. Instead, the priorities in an Infographic project include presenting visually clear and concise information (that works congruently in design and colour) and inventing engaging transitions from one scene to the next.
The focus is on creating the most memorable and engaging ways of conveying a piece of information (which is harder than it sounds), which then needs to be cleared by your client and their brand manager, (which is also harder than it sounds). It often turns into a huge rush of waiting for renders, editing sound effects and sending clips to often none creative clients for a final thumbs up. A very different environment for an animator, though, Surprisingly, good follow through, anticipation and other animation principles are important for animated infographics as part of their charm is fluid animation and other 'pretty' graphics.
Then there is corporate animation, which I am classing as character animation for corporate projects. Corporate projects are all about efficiency and working smart. Ideas are looked at not only from a creative perspective but from a practical perspective too. Cinematography is carefully thought out with off-screen space and sound effects being used to suggest actions rather than someone having to animate them. Long shots are avoided and close-ups and insert shots are utilised well where ever possible to keep the work load down.
Riggers stick to human IK rigging systems to allow the use of animation libraries which often include previously animated walk cycles, jumps, falls, and runs which can simly be imported and customised rather than animating new ones from scratch.
Performance is kept to an animator's gut instinct rather than exquisite planning and much like stop-motion animation, ideally, you only do one take. No retakes, no searching for a better way, just get the shot done and move on.
Your character's thinking must be clear and they must lead a viewer through the scene, but it won't matter if their hair doesn't follow through perfectly, if their hand animation is floaty or if they don't have the most convincing sense of weight.
Each type of project brings is own challenges and has its own sense of reward. You establish different workflows and different techniques to optimise each job and you always come out of a project having learnt something new. I look forward to exploring television animation very soon and the challenges and adaption that will require from me and my team. I'm sure I will be blogging about it, if I have the time, of course!