Sunday, May 27, 2007

Timing and Spacing

"Animation, it's all in the timing and the spacing."

I read that passage in The Animator's Survival Kit years ago. Richard Williams was quoting Grim Natwick (pictured above), former Fleischer/Disney/Fleischer/UPA animator and "officially" uncredited designer of Betty Boop. It all seemed so clear when I read it years ago. I preach this approach to my students constantly because its what I strive to practice in my own work. After my Glacial Movement post I received a critique from Kate. She had a problem with my revised blocking example.

After playing it over and over she decided that the problem was about three and a half seconds in, during the transition between when the character finishes describing his body being a vehicle for his brain and what kind of ride that vehicle should provide. Its a setup for the punch line about his brain deserving a smooth, luxurious ride. According to Kate I have him moving too much (i. e. continuously) between the setup and the punch line and therefore watering down the effect of both. Instead she stated I should hold on the moment when he states, "...caries my brain around." This would help emphasise what quality of ride his brain deserves. Much texting back and forth ensued. She was on to something, and yet her advise was to change something I believed was communicating an essential quality in my character; the position of his hands and head as he has made his initial remark about the relationship of brain to body:

brain = a truly glorious thing

body = mere device towards which he doesn't feel connected

I spent a lot of time acting this piece out until I felt comfortable with the attitude behind the character's statements. I then constructed for myself this persons psychology/world view. I ask myself, 'what attitude justifies this kind of statement being made in this manner?' Thumb-nailing for me is an early stage of design that is partially based on my own movement and performance, and partially based on crafting a pleasing performance with animation technique; line-of-action, flow lines, staging, counter angles, arcs, overlapping action, squash and stretch, and the list goes on. Its a tricky balance. While I have a serious soft spot for experimental animation, I strive not to animate by accident. In my character work, things are where then are for a reason... usually a combination of reasons. This attitude about craft and creativity has been with me a long time and was partially honed while working in graphic design. Kate was now stopping around on my good efforts and telling me not to be so "mechanical" in my approach. The problem wasn't mechanics... the problem was balancing her legitimate observations with all the other things I figured out about this performance so far.

So, how do I preserve a single pose I believe is working when it is watering down my animation? In comes the Dope Sheet Editor to the rescue...

In my best attempts to use Kate's advise regrading a hold between the setup and the punch line, I found that a simple change in timing gave me a lot of what was needed. Then I noticed that my arcs were off, and so I started tweaking the spacing of the hand movements leading up to the pose in question (pictured above). I added a slight settle to help ease into the pose since I'm hitting it faster, while concentrating on the movement of the nose through the gesture, into the pose, and then the settle. And what do you know?... the settle adds more appropriate attitude. I then made another slight fix in timing by speeding up the flicking gesture he makes out of the top of his head on, "...and my brain". Previously, I had the accent on the vowel in "brain", now it happens before "brain" providing a stronger, 'felt' accent on the word. All of this came together very quickly and I feel much better about moving forward with this piece. And this is the first direct experience I've had with improving the emotional performance with small changes in timing and spacing. For comparison the newly re-timed version as opposed to the earlier version that lacked adequate separation between setup and punch line.

"Animation, it's all in the timing and the spacing."

Thanks Grim. Thanks Kate.


PS. For more on Grim Natwick here he is interviewed by David Johnson.

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