Carin Perron: Topics in Animation
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What's Wrong with Your Web Animations?

There are a lot of good tips available about creating web animations; however, many of the problems I have seen with web animations are problems with animation, not software.

I believe it is worthwhile to learn the basics of animation as a discipline. Neglecting this is like learning to do word processing but never taking a writing course, or using a graphics program without knowing about colour, design or composition. No matter how good the software is, it will always be dependent on the expertise of the person using it. Programs that do things for you (like Morphs for metamorphosis) can have a mechanical sameness to them, without the interposition of human judgement.

I have experimented with Gryphon Morph and GIF Construction Set, and think any tool like this is great. I also use The Linker Animation Stand program (on a Mac), mainly for pencil-testing hand-drawn animation. As far as any such tools are concerned, the more the merrier. Computer animation tools can help you execute your ideas, but no computer program will teach you how to make your animation good.

In the early days of computer animation, computer literacy was the main skill sought after. Now, animation houses would rather take people with actual animation skill and experience and teach them how to use the software. Toy Story, for example, used many experienced animators who had to learn to use the software.

When I first learned about computer animation, I thought it would be programmed to take advantage of principles of human perception, some of which can have some annoying math components to them. I was amazed to see how often these programs ignore the most basic principles. The user often needs to adjust for this manually, using a bit of know-how.

Animation, like colour, is a matter of human perception. If it ain't happening in the brain, it ain't happening, period. There are quite a number of decent books out there on animation. What you need to do is go beyond the "ooh-aah, isn't Disney wonderful" and "the making of blah-blah animated feature" books, and get something that has the nitty-gritty of animation. "How to" books are OK, if they explain WHY something works: I just don't happen to agree with step-by-step without understanding. There are so many judgement calls in animation that you need to know these principles in order to make the best decisions in any particular case.

A Final Word.
I would like to compile a short bibliography of good animation books, but in the meantime, I recommend Preston Blair's "Animation," which is a Walter T. Foster book, available in most art stores. It is cheap and lacks snob appeal, but Blair is one of the original Disney animators, and not only does he know his stuff, but he communicates it simply and usefully in this short book (if you're not familiar with this series, they are Life-magazine sized paperbacks with a minimum of pages. The value of the information in the different titles can vary considerably, but some are classics). I've never seen another book that beats it. It has all the basics, thoroughly illustrated and explained, and it is easy to follow. It beats plowing through heavily text-laden books when you just want to get going on your animation. For an overview of the basics, go to my article on the Principles of Animation.

If you are doing computer animation or web animations, you do need to play with your software to get comfortable and familiar with it. It's just much more rewarding to do it with some idea of how animation works, in the abstract.

Happy animating!

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