In Chapter 9 of Liz Blazer’s book Animated Storytelling, she gives us animators pieces of advice to follow based on what she and other masters in the field have learned throughout their animating careers.
Blazer has broken up her advice into three sections: Getting Started, Strategic Movement, and Sound it Out—all of which provide a handful of practical and valuable tips.
The Getting Started section helps with just that—getting started on making something without feeling overwhelmed by the amount of work you are about to embark on or how to begin. I found the advice particularly relatable because I am no stranger to that uncomfortable feeling when starting nearly every project. Despite having an idea and a plan, I still freeze up every time I sit in front of my computer and stare at a new, blank project file.
So what’s the solution to this painstaking feeling? Blazer recommends starting with the easy stuff first. Get the “low-hanging fruit” out of the way so that you get something done quickly and without too much pressure. Doing this first will make you feel better equipped to handle the more complex parts of the project later on. Not only will this process give you a chance to become familiar with the world that you are creating and all of the elements that make it, but it’ll also boost your self-confidence and comfort level.
I wish I would have been given this advice much earlier in my career because it would have saved me a lot of wasted time pressuring myself to figure out the important stuff first. It is only after I work in a particular visual environment for a little bit of time does my mind start making connections on how it all works together—so why have I been forcing myself to figure everything out at the start of a project? I’m heeding this advice with my future projects and look forward to shedding some stress and self-doubt by doing so.
Another piece of advice Blazer provides in this section is to break more significant parts of your project into smaller pieces to make them feel more achievable, save your work early and often, and eliminate any scenes that are unnecessary for your story.
Blazer focuses on character and camera movement in Strategic Movement. Her section labeled Anticipate and Follow Through reminds me of the 12 Principles of Animation from the book The Illusion of Life by Disney animators Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston. The principles and Blazer’s suggestion are to think about the natural physics of movement and the subtle motions before and after your main action. If someone is about to jump, they will bend their knees first and will land with some bend as well. Adding this type of realism to the movement will help your characters become more believable.
In this section, Blazer also recommends mixing up your focal points from up-close to faraway and your time on each shot. Doing this will keep the film dynamic, and the audience engaged. As Blazer describes, “Many filmmakers use quicker shots for more frantic scenes and longer ones for calmer scenes—some filmmakers do the opposite. But successful filmmakers always mix ’em up for best effect.”
Blazer also explains that in computer animation, everything by default is in focus. Consider incorporating traditional photography techniques like depth of field, grain, and vignettes, to name a few.
Sound It Out
In the last section, Blazer emphasizes staying flexible with sound. Animation is a fluid process, and the sound you originally picked may not work for the animation’s final version, especially after scenes are cut or altered from the original narrative. Don’t be afraid to change your music if you need to.
Also, don’t rely too much on the music to tell your story. Try watching your animation without sound to make sure the emotion and movements in your characters are telling the story, too.
This chapter was short but jam-packed with great advice. I appreciate Blazer’s willingness to be open about the creative traps we put ourselves in and how they can work against us and getting the job done. From fretting too much on where to start or spending too much time on an insignificant scene, Blazer has offered several great tips for avoiding unnecessary stumbles on the path to creation.
Animated Storytelling: Simple Steps For Creating Animation and Motion Graphics. 1st Edition. by Liz Blazer. https://www.amazon.com/Animated-Storytelling-Creating-Animation-Graphics/dp/013413365X
YouTube. (2017, May 31). 12 Principles of Animation (Official Full Series). Alan Becker Tutorials. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uDqjIdI4bF4