Timing is Everything
Part of your planning process is deciding on the timing for each of the key poses. The timing you choose will determine whether the action is fast or slow.

Timing is shown through both distance and speed. Distance is the actual measurement between the individual lines and speed is the number of frames it takes or the number of drawings between the keys. It’s the ability to make these two things work together that makes a great animator.

Every action is different. Two separate characters will do the same action in a completely different way. Part of this is determined by the character’s physical attributes, attitude, mental prowess, and their inner character. It also depends on the type of cartoon you’re producing. A Tex Avery cartoon is timed differently than something by Katsuhiro Otomo or Chuck Jones. The director is ultimately the one who decides on the timing of the action within a cartoon. As the sole animator on these assignments, you’re basically the director as well. I’ll give you some basic tips for each assignment but ultimately, all the timing will be up to you.

How does someone learn timing? My feeling is that there is a combination of different things that you need to do. These are observation, study, and practical application.

Observation is looking around yourself and seeing things happen. This can be in the real world or through various mediums including television shows, movies, short cartoons & films, and music. You can ask someone else to act out the character’s action or do them yourself. You could also video tape the action and then watch it.

Observation is one thing, you can sit back and just watch a cartoon and enjoy it for it’s aesthetic value, study is the process of analyzing. Going back over an action and reviewing it several times. Stepping through the action frame-by-frame and making a conscious effort to understand how the action is achieved is a vital part of your learning process.

There are three cartoons that I highly recommend that you study for timing (the links here will take you to the best YouTube versions I could find) : "One Froggy Evening", "Bully For Bugs", and "Feed the Kitty" all by Chuck Jones. Chuck Jones was a genius in his filmic timing. He would time his gags right down to the individual frame.

I've often used a quote from Chuck Jones where he uses an example of his timing from the Roadrunner & Coyote films: "when the Coyote fell off, he had to go exactly three feet (120 frames or 5 seconds) and then disappear for 14 frames before he hit. Not 15 frames, not 13 frames... 14 frames or it wasn't right."

Now, I'm not one to call Chuck a liar but I think he may have been saying this over and over so many times that he was speaking metaphorically rather than recalling the exact timing. I recently went through all the Roadrunner cartoons that he directed and found that he used the gag in 6 of them. Oddly enough, in the first and second cartoons, "Fast and Furrious" (1949) and "Beep Beep" (1952) there were no blank frames, the coyote actually never disappears. He goes down to a dot and the next frame is the puff of smoke.

He uses the gag again in the 6th film "Gee Whiz-z-z-z" (1956) and this time there is a gap of 42 frames before the puff of smoke appears.

In "Whoa Be Gone" (1958) the 8th installment, the gag is used twice in a row, the first time for 42 frames and then in the second it's for 43 frames.

In his final film, "To Beep or Not To Beep" (1963) it happens twice again, the first time it's the Coyote and the gap is 31 frames and it's followed by a falling cactus which disappears and then there is a gap of 32 frames before the puff of smoke.

I'm not sure if it's because he figured no one would ever check and he just got into the habit of saying it enough times that it actually was that way in his mind. Whatever the reason, it still doesn't take away from the fact that he was great with his timing.

Practical application is actually sitting down and doing the drawings. Trial and error. Every animator does this to a greater or lesser extent. I find that most of the time, I’m surprised by the action of the character. Not like, “Wow! How the heck did that happen?” but more a sense of awe that I can do it. This is not to say that right from the beginning I was able to animate characters properly, hah!, far from it. I’d say my 2 years of college were more a study in what not to do. I did a lot of really bad animation. It wasn’t until I started working in a studio and I had to do a good job or get fired that I really started getting a handle on animation.

Again, I’m not trying to say that I’m God’s gift to animation - I don’t have the abilities of someone like Glen Keane, primarily because I haven’t been exposed to the same professional environment like Disney or opportunities to work on some big name films but this also doesn’t mean that I haven't done my fair share of animation on lesser known stuff and don’t understand the principles of animation or can’t apply them to the animation that I do on my own or for teaching purposes. I learned a long time ago, that although Disney is one of the leaders in quality animation, that doesn't mean that some of the smaller studios are not capeable of producing some very nice animation as well.

Your job (and mine) is to try your best each time you sit down to draw, not just animation but any type of work you’re going to do. It doesn't matter if it's for a big budget feature film or a low budget television show. Just do your best.

As we progress through the assignments in this book you’ll get the opportunity to try all sorts of different timing and eventually learn how to manipulate your timing and drawings to get the results you’re looking for.

Timing Charts

Principles Index

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