Category Archives: Technique

Frame by frame images from animated films

Ariel (and Flounder) from Disney’s The Little Mermaid

Frame by frame and sequential images from various animated films appear in an interesting blog has come to my attention. They are great for study and appreciation of the artwork. Each frame can be looked at individually, as well as in the context of the full shot. There are also animated gifs to supply a reference for timing.

You will find the blog at

Disney’s Lady and the Tramp

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Animation A Handy Guide by Sheila Graber book review

LOOK INSIDE is on the Amazon website.

Sheila Graber sent me a copy of her latest book Animation A Handy Guide with a request to review it. The book came at an opportune time, as I was just off on holiday to warmer climes, to escape our cold winter weather. It made excellent holiday reading.

The book comes complete with a DVD. When I got home from holiday I popped this into my computer player and was amazed to find, not only the complete book reproduced page by page, but now the pages were interactive so that many of the examples in the book could be brought to life and the movies mentioned were there to view. More on this later.

Early on in the book Sheila Graber tells us of a valuable concept she learned at teacher training college. It was that everyone can be an artist in their own way and it was her job as a teacher to provide an environment in which the individual could find their own level. This is a philosophy she has followed through out her teaching career and follows in this book.

Sheila writes about animation from three different perspectives; the history of animated film making, advice for the student animator and Sheila’s own experiences as an independent animator. They are grouped together in a way that brings the subject to life and makes it relevant to the budding animator of today.

For example, in a section on animating to music Sheila starts by illustrating the way a 1933 animation by Oskar Fischinger, showing marching cigarettes, was similar to the 1979 animation of marching hammers, for Pink Floyds Another Brick in the Wall. She then sets a couple of exercises designed to demonstrate how visual sound patterns can be interpreted and that abstract scribbles can represent emotions. Finally she explains, with words and illustrations, how this approach helped her animate a film about the artist Mondrian set to boogie music. The resulting animation runs to this day in the Mondrian museum in the Netherlands as an educational introduction to his work. Sheila’s Mondrian movie is on the DVD that accompanies the book.

A screen shot from the interactive DVD showing scenes from Sheila’s Mondrian animation.

Sheila took up animation as a hobby as well as a means of encouraging her pupils to express themselves in an artistic way. Her early films won awards in the Movie Maker magazine 10 Best competitions and her later films won many professional awards, from the London Film festival to Cannes.

For a while Sheila worked at the FilmFair studio in London, animating drawings for the Paddington Bear TV series. These drawings were then traced, coloured, cut out and mounted on card to be combined with the stop motion puppet animation of the bear. However, I get the impression from the book that Sheila is happiest when working on her own creations.

The book describes how she has used many techniques over the years. She embraced the use of computer animation as soon as it became within the budget of an independent animator. Sheila shows how one of her recent animations produced on a computer, called Tyne Cargo, was very similar in style her 1976 cel animation called Moving On. She concludes that whatever materials you use your own style will emerge.

As mentioned earlier, the accompanying DVD is the book brought to life. This triples the information given in the printed book. There are such extras as Student Stuff where extra pages of practical advice are presented in a comic format. On the history pages there are buttons to Dave’s Data. This opens extra pages where David Williams expands on the historical facts and gives Internet links to even more information. There are buttons labelled Graber’s Guide that lead to instructional movies. There are buttons labelled Big Movie and Small Movie that lead to clips from the movies discussed in the book. There is also a built in program called Flip Book. This is a simple drawing program that allows you to create your own animations, frame by frame, play them back and save them to your computer.

Not only does this book tell the story of a remarkable independent female animator it serves as an inspiration to us all to get animated.

Animation: A Handy Guide LOOK INSIDE Animation A Handy Guide

Getting started in animation with Stan Hayward

I recently came across an excellent website about creating animation called Make Movies. It belongs to scriptwriter Stan Hayward, notable for his work at the Bob Godfrey studio and in particular on the Henry’s Cat TV series.

It is a great resource for introducing children to animation because it is clearly laid out. It covers drawing simple cartoon characters and, as you might expect from a master of scriptwriting, some instructive and detailed articles on animation scriptwriting.

Writing in the blog section of the website Stan Hayward says, “My interest is mainly to get animation into schools and the community as I used to run children’s workshops, and in particular, classes for Special Needs children.”

Many of the children Stan taught had physical and mental handicaps, so techniques had to be devised to suit their capabilities. Much of the experience he gained in this work can be found on his Make Movies website.

In a section about making drawings move Stan introduces a two-page flip-book called a roller. It is so called because you roll the top page around a pencil so it curls up. To make a roller, fold a piece of A4 paper length-ways and cut it in half. Then fold it in half length-ways.

Draw a face on the bottom page without a mouth, then trace over it on the top page. Put a sad mouth on the top one and a happy mouth on the bottom one. Now roll up the top page with the pencil, and just run the pencil up and down to flip the page.

Visit Stan’s website at

Animation books available from the Amazon Kindle Store

The Amazon Kindle is a software and hardware platform for displaying e-books and other digital media delivered by wi-fi download. It has free wireless delivery so you can start reading books in less than 60 seconds from ordering. The screen reads like real paper, with no glare, making it easy to read in bright sunlight as well as indoors.

The screen is in black and white, which is great for reading novels but not so good for books that have coloured pictures in their printed format. However, you can download some free software from Amazon to view Kindle books on your PC or Mac in full colour. That way you have the best of both worlds, an easy portable version for when you are travelling and a colour reference when you are at your computer.

Here is our pick of animation books from the Kindle Store.

Animation from Pencils to Pixels: Classical Techniques for the Digital Animator

Award-winning animator Tony White brings you the ultimate book for digital animation. Here you will find the classic knowledge of many legendary techniques revealed, paired with information relevant to today’s capable, state-of-the-art technologies. White leaves nothing out. What contemporary digital animators most need to know can be found between this book’s covers – from conceptions to creation and through the many stages of the production pipeline to distribution. This book is intended to serve as your one-stop how-to animation guide. Whether you’re new to animation or a very experienced digital animator, here you’ll find fundamentals, key classical techniques, and professional advice that will strengthen your work and help you become a well-rounded animator.

LOOK INSIDE Animation from Pencils to Pixels

Timing for Animation

Written by two internationally acclaimed animators, this classic text teaches you all you need to know about the art of timing and its importance in the animated film. This reissue includes a new foreword by John Lasseter, executive vice president of Pixar Animation Studios and director of ‘Toy Story’, ‘Toy Story 2’, ‘A Bug’s Life’ and ‘Monsters Inc.’ He sets the wealth of information in this classic text in context with today’s world of computer animation, showing how this is a must-have text if you want to succeed as a traditional drawn, or computer animator.

LOOK INSIDE Timing for Animation

Stop Motion: Craft Skills for Model Animation

To make great animation, you need to know how to control a whole world: how to make a character, how to make that character live and be happy or sad. You need to create four walls around them, a landscape, the sun and moon – a whole life for them. You have to get inside that puppet and first make it live, then make it perform. Susannah Shaw provides the first truly practical introduction to the craft skills of model animation. This is a vital book in the development of model animation which, following the success of Aardman’s first full-length film, Chicken Run, is now at the forefront of modern animation.

LOOK INSIDE Stop Motion: Craft Skills

Animation: The Mechanics of Motion

Learn the key skills you need with this practical and inspirational guide to all the fundamental principles of animation. With extended pieces on timing, acting and technical aspects, Chris Webster has created the vital learning tool to help you get the most out of your animation and develop the practical skills needed by both professionals and serious students alike. By encouraging the readers to ask themselves questions about the various proposed tasks the author helps to move them towards self-reliance. Throughout the book, he makes reference to traditional techniques, and to C.G.I. Its written in a clear and engaging style, and the illustrations are excellent.

LOOK INSIDE Animation: The Mechanics of Motion

How to Make Animated Films: Tony White’s Complete Masterclass on the Traditional Principals of Animation

Become Tony White’s personal animation student. Experience many of the teaching techniques of the golden era of Disney and Warner Brothers studios and beyond.all from the comfort of your own home or studio. Tony White’s Animation Master Class is uniquely designed to cover the core principles of animated movement comprehensively. How to Make Animated Films offers secrets and unique approaches only a Master Animator could share. Includes hands-on Tutorials, demonstrations and final sample animations. . Whether you want to become a qualified animator of 2D, 3D, Flash or any other form of animation, Tony White’s foundations bring you closer to that goal.

LOOK INSIDE of How to Make Animated Films

Basics Animation: Stop-motion by Barry Purves book review

Oscar and BAFTA-nominated animation director Barry Purves has written a book that teaches the skills required to develop as a creative stop-motion animator or articulated puppet maker. Basics Animation: Stop-motion explores how all the elements of film-making camera work, design, colour, lighting, editing, music and storytelling come together to create animation.

LOOK INSIDE is on the Amazon website.
The cover image is taken from the film Madame Tutli-Putli, 2007, discussed in the chapter on puppets.

Barry Purves has packed the book with tips and suggestions to help you get the most out of your own stopmotion films, accompanied by full-colour illustrations and case studies demonstrating how film-making masters through the years have used it in feature films, short films and TV series. Animation students will learn to use and exploit the particular types of movement, characters and stories that characterise stop-motion. Basics Animation: Stop-motion also examines the evolution of stopmotion, from its almost accidental beginnings to a much-loved form of storytelling in its own right one that continues to push boundaries.

Co-director of DreamWorks Animations Oscar-nominated Kung Fu Panda, Mark Osborne, commented: “To say this book is a perfect companion for anyone interested in stop-motion at any level is a tremendous understatement. Even by taking just a cursory glance through the pages, you will find that the wide range of photographic examples alone make this book a must have … As someone who has previously been a teacher in the medium, I am very excited to find a book that would make for a perfect textbook should I ever teach again.”

Final year Animation student Jack Tytherleigh, reviewing the book on Amazon, said: “If I had read this book 3 years ago, I can’t begin to imagine how much stronger my work would be right now. Although focused on Stop motion animation, this is an essential read for animators from all walks of life. It’s difficult to describe exactly what this book is, it is not just simply a reference to various techniques and skills, it is more a recording of over 30 years of experience. Barry Purves delivers a personal look into not only the advantages but also the drawbacks of each style of animation, offering advice and tips from writing to filming and from designing to modelling; there is always something more you can learn page by page. Broken up into sections for quick reference, you will not only develop your skills as an animator but also learn the history of the trade as well as being given practical and imaginative exercises to try out in your own time.”

In a review on Amazon, Hywel P Roberts said: “This book is a treasure to behold, animator or anyone with an interest in stop-motion. Structured in a practical manner, it allows easy access to a wealth of expertise; from someone who has brought an unprecedented amount of life to this art form. Barry gives an insight to the origins of stop-motion and uses a wide range of examples from animation to theatre, highlighting the advantages and disadvantages of the different process available in the making of a stop-motion animated film, thus allowing the reader to decide on the most suitable approach to bring their story to life.”

Basics Animation 04: Stop-motion LOOK INSIDE Basics Animation 04: Stop-motion

Animation by Preston Blair – learn how to cartoon

Preston Blair’s Animation was one of the first books that I added to my animation library many years ago. It is said by many industry professionals to be the best “how to” book on cartoon animation ever published. He went on to produce two more books and all three have been combined into a 224 page book called Cartoon Animation (Collectors).

In the introduction to Animation Preston Blair said: “The art of animators is unique. Animators bring life to their drawings, creating an illusion of spirit and vigour. They caricature the gestures and expressions in the drawings, give them a fantastic array of character and personality, and make us believe that the drawings actually think and have feelings.”

He continued: “This book was written by an animator to help you learn how to animate-how to make a series of drawings that create a sensation of movement when viewed in sequence. The pioneers of the art of animation learned many lessons, most through trial and error, and it is this body of knowledge that has established the fundamentals of animation. This book will teach you these fundamentals.”

Here is a sample illustration from a page entitled The Dance Kick.

Page from the 1st edition. Click picture for larger image.

I was interested to learn that when Blair put the book together in 1947, he used the characters he had animated at Disney and MGM to illustrate the various basic principles of animation. Soon after publication the rights to use some of the characters were revoked. He redrew most of the MGM characters, replacing them with general characters of his own design for the next edition. Pages from the first edition can be viewed on the ASIFA website.

Preston Blair’s animation course is still available in printed form. The book Cartoon Animation (Collectors) has 224 pages and brings together the contents originally published in three separate books. By getting the printed book you can have all the information in one high quality volume.

You can see more sample pages from Cartoon Animation on the Amazon website.

LOOK INSIDE is on the Amazon website.

Animation can also be viewed at
Cartoon Animation can be viewed at

How to become an expert animator in 5 steps

The good news is that you are already an expert at many things. You have mastered at least one language and have learned to read. By following the technique of learning by doing, you will become an expert animator over time.

The best thing of all is that learning how to animate is great fun. The first time I run a new animation sequence that I have created, I feel like I have performed a magic trick. Maybe it needs a bit more work and polish but the satisfaction is immense.

So what is the special formula that elevates someone to the position of expert in their field? The answer lies in five key stages in the learning process.

When people exhibit a special skill in a particular area such as music, drawing or sport we tend to assume they are naturally gifted. However, scientific research has shown that the differences between experts and less proficient individuals nearly always reflect attributes acquired by the experts during their lengthy training.

Researchers have settled on what they believe is the magic number for true expertise: ten thousand hours. Neurologist Daniel Levitin says “In study after study, of composers, basketball players, fiction writers, ice skaters, concert pianists, chess players, this number comes up again and again… It seems that it takes the brain this long to assimilate all that it needs to know to achieve true mastery… This is true even of people we think of as prodigies”.

The 10,000 hour theory is also supported by the fact that when I was a lad craft apprentices were usually indentured for five years (40 hours a week x 50 weeks x 5 years = 10,000 hours).

If 10,000 hours seems impossible look at it this way: it is equivalent to roughly three hours a day, or 20 hours a week, of practice over 10 years. Take it one step at a time and eventually you will reach you goal.

Author George Leonard identified five stages in learning in his book Mastery – The Keys To Success:

Key 1: Instruction. There is nothing better than being mentored by a master animator, either in the workplace or as a student. If this is not possible there are many books written by master animators. Also study sequences from the classic animation films, view them one frame at a time to see how it was done.

Key 2: Practice. The more you do something the easier it will become. Whatever you chosen medium, be it drawn, puppets or computer animation, put the knowledge you have gained from instruction into practice. Set yourself a specific goal, such as 10 second sequence, and work towards it. Once you have achieved this set yourself a harder goal.

Key 3: Surrender. Your early attempts at animation are bound to feel clumsy. Don’t let this put you off. Trust in your own ability and follow the guidance of your instructor (be it a mentor, a book or a film clip). Immerse yourself in your animation and keep going.

Key 4: Intentionality. You should bring willpower, attitude and imagination to the learning process. Keep focused and think ahead about what you want to achieve.

Key 5: The Edge. Almost without exception, those we know as masters are dedicated to the fundamentals of their calling. They are zealots of practice, connoisseurs of the small, incremental step. At the same time they are likely to challenge previous limits, to take risks for the sake of higher performance. But before you can play the edge there must be much instruction, practice, surrender, and intentionality.

Check out the following blog for more info on these key steps: The Five Keys to Mastery.

The 11 Second Club monthly character animation competition

The 11 Second Club holds a monthly character animation competition in which animators from all over the world can participate. The challenge is to animate a character speaking a line of dialogue provided by the club. During the competition participants can share their progress with each other and evaluate each other’s work. At the end of the month, everyone votes for the submission they consider the best for that month. The idea is to give animators a chance to practice their skills in a fun, challenging environment.

To take part you download the current month’s audio file then animate a character performing the line, using whatever action you feel interprets the audio best. The style and the animation medium is up to you, be it pencil, puppets, computer, etc. Finally upload your movie to the site before the end of the competition.

A useful feature for budding animators is the critiques given to the winners by professional animators. They run through the winning videos and suggest improvements and give notes on the animation. Watching the critiques given to past winners is a good way of learning about character animation.

For more information visit the 11 Second Club website.

Make your own Plasticine Morph


Cover of the Morph DVD.

If you are considering having a go at Plasticine animation then an easy way to start is with a “my own Morph” kit from Flair Create. It is available from Amazon .

The Plasticine stop-motion character Morph first appeared on a children’s TV art show called “Take Hart” in 1977. He interacted with the shows presenter Tony Hart, providing short humorous sequences. Much of the action consisted of Morph changing shape, such as rolling into a ball. Or he would disappear into the table top as if sinking into water. These kind of actions suit the medium of Plasticine as it is infinitely changeable.

Morph was created by Peter Lord of Aardman animation. The studio went on to produce the “Wallace and Gromit” movies, so from small acorns great oak trees grow.

The kit contains three blocks of Plasticine; a large terracotta block for Morph’s body, and small blocks of white and black for the eyes. There are some suitably sized plastic props including a skate board and a cricket bat. There is a leaflet with diagrams on modelling Morph and the best bit of all; a “How to model Morph” DVD. The DVD has Peter Lord modelling Morph from a block of modelling clay, or Plasticine, as we call it in England. As he models he gives tips on how to go about it. For example the legs and arms are pulled out of the ball of Plasticine rather than being added on. This gives them more strength. The DVD also includes 15 Morph episodes.

There is also a “my own Chas” kit that enables you to create your own cheeky Chas out of Plasticine. This also has an instructional DVD that includes 10 bumper length episodes plus an introduction to Chas from Peter Lord.

Animating squash and stretch – bouncing ball

bouncing ball 01Exaggerated squash and stretch is a great way to add amusement and believability to your animation. I have created a demonstration using a bouncing ball made of very flexible rubber.

This demonstrates Newton’s third law of motion, more commonly called action reaction. For every action in one direction, there is an equal and opposite reaction in the opposite direction; even if the object does not move.

bouncing ball 02In this case the moving ball hits the stationary ground with such force that the top of the ball keeps going downwards when the bottom has stopped. The ball keeps the same volume so the sides move outwards. The amount of squash will depend on the material the ball is made of. The energy of the moving ball is not absorbed by the ground; instead it translates into a reverse thrust and causes the ball to fly upwards. Now the ball becomes long and thin as it stretches up. Near the top of the bounce gravity takes over and starts to pull down on the ball. Making the ball squash a little at the top of its bounce gives the illusion of opposite forces acting on the ball.

bouncing ball 03I created the ball animation in CorelDRAW, which is a vector based drawing program. I made just one drawing and then squashed and stretched the ball with the resizing tools that are part of the program. After each transformation I exported the picture to a jpg file. These picture files were imported into Windows Movie Maker and dragged onto the timeline. The sound track was made with a boing.wav that I found with an Internet search. I dragged two boing sounds onto the timeline and adjusted their position to match with the ball hitting the ground.

Here is the movie that I made. Please let me have your thoughts in a comment to this post.