Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The importance of flipping pages

This is a post for the animators out there. I can pretty much guarantee anyone else will be bored silly. Way more bored than you'd usually be browsing my crappy blog.

Flipping Paper. Pages. Rolling. Whatever. You know what I'm talking about.

In my rather humble opinion, page flipping is one of the most important developments in the history of animation. Animation is drawing, sure. It's about character, sure. But it's not about individual drawings, individual character.

Animation is movement.

Flipping pages allows a 2D animator to animate in motion. It's not just a tool for testing those drawings of yours. Really good animators I've seen flip constantly, instinctively, and they draw while flipping. Because they are drawing in motion - they aren't drawing static images. It's like animating in real-time. They are feeling the movement. It's an artistic thing in that it bypasses the intellectual in a way. And, yeah, I'd say it's important. I've seen excellent animators whose actual drawing skills aren't up to par. But what they do have is movement and, more importantly, timing.

Fixing up the drawings? Assistants can do that. Probably better than many animators.

But an assistant can't fix bad movement and timing.

Movement and timing is something you feel. It's a slightly different way of thinking and not everyone has it but, when you flip pages, it can get you to feel that movement and timing. You're seeing things as you draw - not just the drawings, but the movement. And, as we've established, that's what animation is.

As I'm moving into Flash and these newfangled gadgets you crazy kids are calling "computers", I find that there is no software equivalent. Yeah, there's this onion skinning thing where you can see the images much as you would on a lightbox but that only allows you to plot your drawings on an intellectual level. You can't animate while feeling that movement. It's now an entirely disconnected process. You can scroll along the timeline to test the movement but that's not the same as animating in motion.

So animators must become scientists and not artists. Without being able to feel the movement, you must resort to a clinical evaluation of where the next drawing or pose should be.

This, in my opinion, is a real problem. How do we get the page flipping back? Is animation becoming a science and not an art?


Andy Latham said...

There is a way to replicate some sort of flipping using a Cintiq tablet. You have to assign one of the touch strips on either side of the tablet to whatever shortcut keys are used to advance forward or backward one drawing in the software you use (the left and right arrow keys in TVPaint). This allows you to 'flip' through your drawings by sliding your thumb up or down the strip, which is about as close to true flipping as you are likely to get and it does the job pretty well in my opinion.

Bitter Animator said...

I'll have to give that a go later and see how I get on. It may well do the trick.

pappy d said...

I tried that myself but found it frustrating. Maybe it's a hardware issue but I can't get it to refresh fast enough to get my persistence of vision to engage. The touch strips feel clumsy & though you can roll (1,2,3,4) I still can't figure a way to flip 2,1,3 like in inbetweening.

Having been an analog system myself for so long, I'm having more trouble adjusting than the younger guys. I'd love to know if you make any progress on this. I'd even consider buying a stack of graphics cards if that's what it takes.

Bitter Animator said...

Well I've been testing it with Flash this evening and it's certainly much better than not having it at all.

Because, when I'm flipping pages, I'm using all my fingers, I have complete control of timing, the pages I want to see in what order and so on. So I can go from that 1,2,3 to 3,1,2 or 1,3,2 and so on at any stage without losing momentum and I can always land back on the drawing I'm working on with ease.

This slider only works with one finger and goes up or down sequencially through the timeline.

So, so far, it's not close to flipping but it's way better than where I thought I was this morning when I posted this so huge thanks to Andy for the tip. And, you know what? I didn't get the hand of flipping pages in an evening so maybe I'll get used to this to.

But I'm not sure even if I get good at it that it will give me the control I'd prefer. Maybe there's a page flipping extra you can buy. If someone hasn't made that yet, I'm sure they will soon.

But then, having said that, if I'm doing 2D traditional animation and requiring page flipping, maybe I'm just better off just doing that on paper. I mean, I'm not using any of the benefits of the software by actually drawing every frame.

Pappy, as someone who comes from a traditional background, I totally understand your frustration.

murrayb said...

This question is as old as animation; From what I understand the warner's guys never "rolled" their sheets, their animation was top pegged, and as a result it was more about zany drawings and experimental timing.(there's that hilarious cigar box analogy in the dick Williams book from ken Harris)

The soft delicate realness of Disney animation is in my opinion a direct product of the frank and ollie frame "rolling"; an animation equivalent to "method" acting and being "in the moment".

*but* Milt Kahl's keys were never that wrinkly, he planned everything so meticulously, and Glen Keane's look like a dog's breakfast; both amazing animators.