Before You Begin Your Animation...
Some Things to Think About
The analysis of who and what your character is along with where they are, what they are doing and why they are doing whatever it is they’re going to do is absolutely essential before you begin the process of animating your scene. By answering the above questions you will arrive at the “how” your character does it.

The following are some more specific questions that you need to think about as you begin the planning of your animation:

Understand Who Your Character Is
Who and/or what are they?
This can include several different things: what is their social status, are they rich , poor, middle class? What do they do for a living, are they under paid, over paid? Are they male, female, both, neither, animal, vegetable, mineral, alien, insect, etc.? The answer to these questions will determine their physical limitations or possibilities as well as their underlying motivations from a social point of view.

How do they live, breathe, think?
This is an extension of the social status question. If they are rich, they will be accustomed to living, thinking and ultimately acting a certain way as opposed to if they are poor. The “breathing” part isn’t really necessary to analyze, it’s just part of the flow of the statement “live, breathe, think”... unless they are hooked up to a life support system or something.

Why do they do what they do the way they do it?
Again, another extension of the social status question, this has to do more with their motivation, their underlying thought process. Usually a story has something to do with a character’s pursuit of something: an object, another character, or a goal of some sort, like, “to take over the world”. The individual scene you are animating will be a part of that journey. Their actions within the scene take them closer to their ultimate goal.

Where do they come from?
Another social status question that is part of their motivation or journey. They could be from next door, another city, country, planet, etc. Where did they come from and why did they come to the place that they’re in now?

What are they doing?
This can be either the general journey question, “saving the princess from the evil King” or the specific action within the scene you’re animating, “trying to open the locked door of her room in the castle”. Since the first deals with the motivation of the character throughout the movie and you’re dealing with the specifics of the individual scene, you need to focus on the specifics while keeping the motivation in mind.

Why are they doing it?
This has to do with the personal feelings and desires of the character. Is he getting paid to save the princess, does he love her, does he want to marry her, or does he just feel sorry for her? Is their a physical gain for the character or is it psychological? This question digs deeper to the character’s ultimate motivation for their actions.

What is their relationship to the others around them?
Is the princess his sister, cousin, complete stranger? Is he related in some way to the King? Of course it’s a moot question if the character is alone in the film.

What is the emotional state of the character?
Another psychological motivation question that will effect the way the character acts within the context of the scene. A person will act differently if they are mad, or sad, happy, distraught, surprised, etc..

What are their inner feelings?
This is closely related to the emotional state of the character. Usually a characters inner feelings are displayed through their emotional state. There may be the unusual circumstance where the character is in a conflicted state. Outwardly they may be angry, but their inner state is one of sadness and they are fighting with themselves to resolve the conflict. This obviously would require a much higher level of acting within your animation and is very difficult to achieve.

How does the character “act” under the circumstances they are in?
This will be their outward presentation of their actions within their situation. Is the prince fumbling with the lock because he’s nervous, because a) he can’t wait to see the princess, b) the King is coming up behind him c) the King is coming up behind him, running with a sword? The situation you’re in will dictate your actions based on your personality and emotional state.

Understand The Scene’s Context
What has happened just before?
Did the prince just defeat the King in a sword fight, or did he just wound him. Or was the prince wounded in the fight? Again, this will determine the way in which the prince approaches the door and tries to open it. Does the prince know the King was only wounded and he thinks he’s actually dead but the King is now sneaking up on him?

What will happen just after?
Does the prince get the lock off the door? Does he have to come up with an alternative like smashing the door down or going through the window? Does the King attack him from behind? Does the King surprise him? Does the prince see him before he gets to him? Does the princess warn the prince? Although it may not directly effect how you animate your scene, it is important to know what happens next.

What actions are required within the scene?
This now gets down to the nitty-gritty of the actual actions that will take place throughout the scene. Does the prince have to enter the scene from off screen or is he already partly to the door? Is he running? Does he slide to a stop? Does he know the door is locked? If not, does he make just one attempt to pull or push it open or several? How many? Do they escalate in severity? Does he talk to the princess inside the cell first, or after the opening attempts? Does he use his sword to try to pry the lock off? Was he carrying the sword in his hand or was it sheathed? And the questions go on.

Is the story point clear?
What is it that you want the scene to say within the context of the overall story?

Does this scene advance the plot?
This is more of a question that should be asked at the storyboarding stage. In some cases it may slip past the editing stage and get into animation. You should still question the purpose of the scene within the overall context of the film. If you have any concerns, you should voice them. If not, just shut up and do the scene.

Does this scene advance the character?
Same as above.

Are the actions you’ve chosen the simplest statement of the main idea of the scene?
Be careful not to get too elaborate with your actions. Remember that the audience has not done all this analysis. They’re just seeing the scene in real time connected to all the other scenes. If you start getting elaborate or confusing, you could lose the audience or cause them to stop and question the motivation of the character. You don’t want to have the audience say to themselves, “Now why would he go and do something like that? That didn’t make any sense!”

Is it being acted out in the most interesting way?
Again, you don’t want the audience to think to themselves, “Boring!”

Is it being acted out in the most entertaining way?
This is similar to the above question but slightly different. If something is entertaining, we’re ultimately talking about whether the scene elicits and emotional response. A scene can be interesting and entertaining or it can just be interesting, or it can be just entertaining... which will also make it interesting as well.

Are the actions “in Character”?
Is this something that the character would actually do and are they doing it as themselves or are they acting like someone else? Given the circumstances, are their actions plausible?

Are you attempting to do something that shouldn’t be attempted?
This is part of the character being “in character” as well as a question of whether you should be animating the character doing whatever it is that they’re doing, the way they’re doing it. An example of this might be adding smears to the action to move the character from one key to the other. Is this type of action used anywhere else in relation to the character. Is this the way they do things, or is it just a gimmick to cut down on drawings?

Drawing/Posing Considerations
Does the scene have 2 dimensional clarity?
This means are the graphic images portrayed by the posing and silhouettes of the character within the scene clear and readable to the audience immediately?

Do the drawings have 3 dimensional solidity?
Unless you’re dealing with flat graphic designs like Dexter’s Laboratory, et la, you should be drawing your characters using proper perspective and structural drawing. Don’t get lazy or sloppy.

Are the drawings appealing?
Each drawing should look good on it’s own. The drawings should not look awkward or off model. If a drawing or series of drawings looks goofy, it will show up and people will notice if not consciously, then subconsciously. They may not be able to identify it specifically, but they’ll think, there was something weird about that scene.

Is there power in your drawings?
Your drawings should be filled with energy. Not that they should be forceful on their own but to the end purpose of making the scene work properly. This is what sets amazing animators apart from the average Joe. Bill Tytla, Milt Kahl, and Rod Scribner are prime examples of animators who consistently put power into each of their drawings.

Is the scene well composed?
Is the character placement within the field of vision appropriate for the action that is taking place within the scene? Is there proper leading space for the character?

Does the scene have the proper staging?
Does the background compliment the character and action or work against it? Is there a proper focal point for the audience to look at?

Is the character’s thought process coming through in their expression changes?
Can you read the characters thoughts and emotions clearly? Part of this is character fielding but it’s also an issue of not moving the character around too much during important dialogue or expression changes. Be sure to allow the audience time to see what’s going on at the appropriate times.

Animation Considerations
Are you using all the principles of animation properly?
You won’t necessarily use all of them in every instance but the basics such as anticipation - action - reaction, slow-in, slow-out, overlapping action, weight, and timing are usually always used.

Is your timing solid?
Allowing your character enough time to do what they have to do is very important. An action that moves too fast won’t be read by the audience, something too slow will be perceived differently than it should. Be very careful to act the scene out and time yourself to be as accurate as you can. This isn’t to say that you can’t exaggerate things but there are levels of acceptability and if you go beyond this point, it won’t look right. Studying other peoples animation frame-by-frame can help you understand this better.

Do the secondary actions work with the main action?
If the secondary actions are off a bit, the action won’t make sense and the overlapping object will stick out and seem out of place. People see things the way they are every day and accept these actions as plausible. If they see you trying to animate something that they know or have seen happen in a certain way and you deviate from that norm dramatically, they will recognize it. Don’t underestimate your audiences ability to assess these things.

Are you using drag and follow through?
Again, use this only where necessary. Don’t force it into an action just to say, “Hey, I used drag and follow through. Neat huh?”

Is the animation appealing and dynamic?
Just the same as the individual drawings, your overall animation needs to be both appealing and dynamic otherwise you’ll end up boring the audience or make them lose their train of thought within the film.

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