Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Character Animation Crash Course- 2008

My Two Genies

Instantly a classic, Eric Goldberg came out with his amazing book Character Animation Crash Course!, in 2008. Little did I know that year, when stumbling upon the book and its author at the San Diego Comic-con that I was given a privileged opportunity! I was with a friend of mine that day that had never been to the con, she isn’t a huge comic book fan, but she’s a person generally interested in a variety of things. We were making our way through the isles, and stopped at the Stuart NG book booth (http://stuartngbooks.com/); my friend knows some French and was entertained greatly by their selection of European comics, while she was pouring over those, I found a stack of the Character Animation Crash Course! books. I picked up the book, flipped though the book, I wanted the book. I had a problem though, I’d already been through most of the con and my funds were pretty low, do I buy the book and put it on the credit card, or do I wait?

I put the book down, my friend and I went to leave the booth, trying to rationalize purchases we wanted to make there, when I looked over to see a very short, bald man sitting behind the booth across the aisle. He was all set up ready to sign books, and no one was there with books to be signed. I was between Eric Goldberg and his book, with no one in my way. I used the credit card. Flustered and gleeful, I hoped on over to the booth with my newly purchased book to have Eric sign it. He opened it up, and… I had apparently picked up a pre-signed copy! Opps. I was asked to go back and see if they had an unsigned copy I could swap it out for, I went, I checked, there wasn’t. I came back, explained, and it wasn’t a problem. Eric happily asked me what he should draw for me, and I was so excited to have him sign that my mind drew a complete blank and I said, “the Genie,” which would have been perfectly fine since the Genie from Disney’s Aladdin is one of his most well-known characters, except for the fact that the pre-signed sketch already in my book was of the Genie. How embarrassing of me to be so thick! I couldn’t have blundered like that in front of a more gracious man though. Eric happily saved the situation by commenting, “Well, I’ll give you the deluxe Genie then.” I thanked him for the sketch and went on my way, but for being kind to someone as silly as me, I also thank him!

Ok, so you got a signed copy, good for you, but why should I get this book already?

If I weren’t me, I’m sure I’d be asking the previous question already, so I’ll get right to it. Eric’s book is great because he offers a clear, organized approach to the principles of animation while always presenting them in a way that shows how they can best be used to enhance an animated character’s performance. If you’ve never read a book on character animation before, it’s the perfect place to start. He’s a Disney master who’s learned from Disney masters so he has a lot to share! Eric’s explanations are insightful and to the point. Coupled with his drawings, each topic is brilliantly made clear. The chapters all follow a similar format with bullets for key sections, example sketches, and additional information at the end such as summaries, exercises, and recommended cartoon viewing!

Along with the sketches in the book, there’s a symbol to indicate which ones are animated on the companion CD included with the book. These examples are a wonderful reference to have at your fingertips because you can watch them in real time, then scrub through frame by frame to really see what Eric’s done with each one and how that’s affected the animation. He’s also included the timing charts with each animated example so you can see how he’s broken down the inbetween drawings.

There is some information which you really won’t find in any other books, and some information that is but that hasn’t been presented as clearly as it is in Crash Course. The chapters on Spacing and Gimmicks are good examples. There’s also a chapter on animating to music which outlines some tips. I can’t think of another book that’s attempted to mention much about this topic. Chapter 20, Approach to a Scene, gives you a rundown of the process animators take in a studio setting. It outlines in detail the steps you would take to animate a scene from planning the thumbnails to doing the inbetweens with important questions to ask yourself as you’re doing each stage. It’s a very helpful reference to make sure your focus is always on the final character performance while working through each step.

There’s about 218 pages worth of reasons why you should have this book as an animator. Like the other books I’ve highlighted in my blog thus far, it’s one of the most valuable resources to have at your disposal. I like how the chapters are broken down, and everything is clearly organized into manageable bits of information. Eric doesn’t spend time meandering around topics, but gets right to the heart of what’s important to learn from each principle, always keeping in mind the final character performance.

Learn from Eric Goldberg in Person this year!

To mention nothing of the books I’d wish I had the benefit of reading when starting out, the Laguna College of Art & Design has a current opportunity that I would have never dreamed possible when I was younger, by offering a 12 week Sat. course for college/recent grad level animators to work with Eric himself on a special project! It’s an opportunity that’s almost too good to pass up. You have to apply by May 1st with 3 each of sample pages of storyboards, character designs, background layouts, and a 1 minute demo reel. The course runs June 9th- August 25th. For more details visit the site:


Don’t forget the 2012 May 1st deadline!

Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Animator’s Survival Kit- 2001

A more recent classic, I haven’t had an animation class in America that didn’t require the purchase of the Animator’s Survival Kit by Richard Williams. When I studied abroad at the Osaka University of Art in Japan it was the only book on animation written in English that they kept in the library. A friend suggested I check it out, leading to my first discovery of the book there in that little section on アニメーション (a-ni-me-sho-n)!

I’ve read the book straight through, but often returned to individual sections of chapters countless times for review. Hardly a week goes by in one of my animation classes when I’m not assigned at least a few pages to read over, but that’s never hardship. Williams’ casual way of relating the invaluable information held within the pages makes for a pleasant and entertaining read. Like Frank & Ollie’s book it holds within its pages a life time of animation experience.

When reading the book straight through the topics seem to naturally flow into one another, but the real benefit comes by just focusing on a few pages at a time. Flipping through the book for the first time can be overwhelming with 342 pages crammed full of images and text all illustrating different principles and concepts, but if you take the time to work through the book in manageable sections you’ll enjoy the reading and learn almost everything you need to know to become a good animator.

Unlike other animation books I’ve read, The Animator’s Survival Kit doesn’t outline assignments or offer any formal step by step instructions, but all the information is there so that if you want to learn by tracing some of Williams’ examples, or doing your own in-betweens on them, it’s easy to practice different techniques. This semester I’ve had several assignments in my 2D animation class which required Williams’ drawings and charts as a starting point. We did a goose sneak cycle based off page 170, and some other exercises on inbetweening following his models.

For your own amusement, here’s my take on the goose, which (*shameless disclaimer to follow*) still needs some more work:

After being inspired by what I read on page 252 about flexibility, I did my own version of a dancing girl, although I focused on the hips and didn’t practice the breaking of joints like Williams. Again, be amused:

If the book doesn’t offer enough Williams goodness for you, he offers a 16 DVD box-set with instruction and companion videos of his examples from the book. Here’s the spiel from the site:

“The Animator's Survival Kit - Animated is about how things move, and specific work methods used to make characters live, breathe, think and give a sustained commanding performance. Williams demonstrates his points with drawing, performance and over 400 specially animated examples - many from his best-selling book.” - http://theanimatorssurvivalkit.com/about.html

Sounds great, but at a current USD price of $985.45, it’s certainly no impulse buy. If the price were a little more affordable I would have jumped at the chance to own the DVDs, but seeing as it’s a serious chunk of money, I haven’t been able to afford it while taking classes. I think if someone wanted to see how far they could get through self-study, it could be a very good option.

For those of us who can’t plunk down almost 1k for the DVDs, we can at least afford the text which can be bought for about $20 new or even cheaper if you shop used. In 2009, Williams put out an expanded edition which I have not had the pleasure of looking over, but I’m sure the added content would also be helpful. The Animator’s Survival Kit is true to its name, it’s a book full of valuable information which will get you through all the principles of animation ensuring you come out of the jungle animating your characters to perfection. Have fun with it, and take the time to work through some of the examples as you read!

If you’d like to learn more about the author, or see some great video clips of his work, check out the Survival Kit website: http://theanimatorssurvivalkit.com/index.html

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Timing for Animation- 1981

Another book of note released the same year as the indispensable Illusion of Life is Timing for Animation written by Harold Whitaker and John Halas, both having had long standing careers as animators by the time they co-authored the book. You can see a full list of screen credits for each author on their respective IMDB pages. Both worked on Animal Farm, and some examples from the movie are in the book.

Timing for Animation delves in depth into one of, what Frank and Ollie defined as, the 12 principles of animation in their book the Illusion of Life. That principle being Timing, of course! The book is divided into topics which span only a few pages each and cover all of the 12 principles of animation but with an emphasis on timing in each explanation. If you’re already familiar with the principles, then it will provide a great way for you to better understand how timing effects your animation. Some of the topics covered are: timing of inanimate objects, force transmitted through jointed limbs, spacing of drawings, timing to suggest weight and force, water, rain, timing animals’ movements, timing and music. There’s a lot to be gained by reading this book and although it is deceptively light with its small size and low page count, there’s plenty of good information for animators to soak in. I like to keep it as a handy reference for when I’m animating a particular kind of movement and need another perspective on how to approach it. Such as, p. 64’s Timing an oscillating movement which provides tips on animating animal tails and twanging motions. The simple explanation and tips were very helpful.

The first copy of the book I owned was actually a Japanese translation I picked up while studying abroad working on my first animated short. Even without being completely fluent in Japanese at the time I gained a lot from studying the example images which appear at least on every other page. Once I bought my English copy and could read the text without a struggle, it was as if a light bulb was turned on and what I’d soaked in from studying the pictures really took hold.

Timing for Animation is a valuable reference for animators, but it’s not a definitive source on animating. It serves as a great secondary resource with some helpful reminders about things like physics and spacing and all things concerning timing. For that reason it’s a great reference book to have in your collection. Current reprints of the book even feature a wonderful forward by John Lasseter about his personal struggle with the topic. Small in size; at 142 pages you can surely find room for Timing for Animation on your shelf!

John Halas


Harold Whitaker


Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Illusion of Life- 1981

As I write these reviews I’m by no means trying to chronicle every animation book ever written, but after Preston Blair’s book, the next print publication of note in my humble opinion came in 1981, titled the Illusion of Life by Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston. Like Preston Blair’s book, this text can probably be found in almost every great animator’s library and is required course material for many college animation classes. It’s a chunk of a book and its coffee table size and format are cunningly deceptive!

Can you remember the last time you curled up with a cup of coffee and a 575 page hardcover book that probably weighs as much as your cat? Sounds silly, but when it comes to reading the Illusion of life that’s probably not a bad idea. The book is worth having just for chapter 3 alone, which outlines the 12 principles of animation and succinctly describes their importance with excellent examples. It’s full of color and black and white images from the wonderful Disney films the animator-authors worked on. It covers animation history, techniques, and describes the various non-animation departments necessary for creating a traditionally animated film such as the music and story departments. After reading this book anyone can become an expert about the animation process! Because of its format it’s not the easiest book to pull off the shelf and refer back to often, but the example images of character designs, thumbnail sketches, and x-sheets make it an invaluable reference so it should always be close at hand. It’s wonderful for student animators like yours truly and every animator and animation enthusiast could use a copy.

My appreciation for the book, wholehearted and enthusiastic, was further deepened after watching the 1995 documentary film Frank and Ollie. It’s a shame that the DVD for the film doesn’t come shrink wrapped with the book, because they really complement each other. In the film Frank and Ollie talk about their book and so much more as they reminisce about their lives as top animators for Walt Disney. If you’re going to buy the book, make sure you check out this DVD also as it will give you a chance to get to know these icons of the animation industry.

The Illusion of Life is a must own. Every chapter was lovingly written from the approach of personal experience. It could easily be called the memoirs of Frank and Ollie. More than a book, the Illusion of Life is a legacy, a gift to animators.

For more about Frank and Ollie, check out their personal website which was designed in their lifetimes, now graciously maintained by the people who knew and loved them.


Because it is such a long book, I’ve been reading my copy in bits at a time. My drink of choice today is jasmine green tea! I have to be honest and admit I haven’t read it down to the letter as of writing this review, but I keep it on the shelf above my computer, and refer back to it often.

Did you know…?

That Frank and Ollie have had more than one animated cameo? My favorite is from the Incredibles. Here’s the screen cap with an overlay that says it all. I wish I knew the original source of this great image to give credit where it’s due!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Classic- Preston Blair's Book

Probably the oldest published book of animation instruction is Preston Blair’s little booklet, Advanced Animation, which according to the animation archive was first printed in 1947. Information on the history of this book can be found online at the animation archive website. http://www.animationarchive.org/?p=2091

Versions of this book have been photocopied, printed, reprinted, uploaded and downloaded for over 50 years now and it is still a must-have for every animator. The most current print version of the book is called Animation 1: Learn to Animate Cartoons Step by Step (Cartooning, Book 1), a hefty title for a 32 page book, but if the length of the title reflected the worth of the content then the title would prove to be an accurate description! In other words, it’s worth far more than the $8.95 cover price.

Similar to the classic Advanced Animation booklet is Preston Blair’s Cartoon Animation. The version I own of this book was first published in 1994. It was the first book on animation I ever read. It’s 224 pages long and has a lot more detailed information and drawings. Some of the pages from Advanced Animation are included in the book, but not all. If you are someone just starting to learn animation the 32 page version will give you the basics without confusion and keep you from becoming overwhelmed. Either version is a great resource to have, so one way or another make sure you have something that says “by Preston Blair” sitting on your shelf!

Here are some of the different faces the book has taken on over the years: