Open Letter to an Enthusiast

Open Letter to an Enthusiast


Ken Clark


Dear Pete,
It is always a great pleasure to meet fellow enthusiasts in the field of animation. Of course I will help you all I can. Your letter did not explain how advanced your knowledge of the subject has reached to date, and so I will assume you to be a raw beginner.

Animation is a fun hobby and a most creative and rewarding way of filling time. Best of all, once you have your basic set up, it need cost you no more than the amount of paper, eels, pencils, colours and film stock you use.

You will need a light box for the drawing and a firm support for your camera to film them. A tripod would do to start with to make some test animations. Then you can invest in a rostrum if you find you like animation. The light box and rostrum need not be elaborate and if you have facilities for home construction you could make them yourself.

The first thing to get clear in your mind is the fact that a Wait Disney type of film will not be possible this early in your training, but that should not deter you. ‘Full’ animation is truly an art. When J. Arthur-Rank brought David Hand over from America in the late Forties to take charge of G.B.Animation at Cookhain, he enlisted the aid of 250 or more artists, mostly ex-servicemen.

At a briefing he told them he expected to get no more than a dozen ‘key’ animators from their midst. In fact, he was 100% correct. Full animation demands 24 pictures per second. A key animator draws the ‘key’ positions of the actions and leaves the major number of drawings to ‘in-between artists’ to complete. This is not to say that animators have not been able to make such films – only that it requires a high degree of ability, great discipline and perseverance.

Having checked your initial enthusiasm, let me restore it by saying that there is more than a book full of techniques that will enable you to make a film look like full animation but be less demanding in terms of effort. Before that however the basics must be learned!

Begin with the basic figure: a little guy based on four circles. Do NOT attempt to draw ‘finished’ pictures! First pencil in the line of action, the pose, the attitude:-


Keep everything sketchy. Pre-plan your moves by drawing the key (primary) positions for each action. It is the quickest way of progressing. The pile of key drawings will grow rapidly before you, and act as an incentive – and at this initial stage you desperately require incentive. No matter that your drawings are rough and unfinished. As you acquire expertise so you will work ‘cleaner’ and more precisely.

Meanwhile, try to concentrate on speed sketching, keeping the proportions accurate, and delineating a bold action line. Time an action with a stop watch if you can acquire one. Close your eyes, imagine the sequence and stop the watch. Do this three or four times until you are satisfied. You will be working on Super 8 I presume; therefore you will require 18 pictures per second of screen time. BUT you can cheat and only draw 9 per second for all but the fastest movements. When you come to film them you simply expose each drawing twice, once on each of two successive frames. This of course cuts your work by half – hooray!

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