Author Archives: David Jefferson

About David Jefferson

My name is David Jefferson and I live near the historic English market town of St. Albans, Hertfordshire, England. I have a background in print and graphic design and was the editor of Animator magazine between 1982 and 1995. Animation has been one of my hobbies for many years. I have explored most methods of animation including drawn, plasticine/clay, puppet and computer. The disciplines learnt creating animation help me as a designer of stitching card and string art patterns. I created the patterns available from the Stitching Cards, Form-A-Lines and String Art Fun websites.

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 onanimation.com.
Cartoon Animation can be viewed at freetoon.com.

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My 10 favourite blogs by professional animators

It is great to discover new animation blogs and if they are written by professionals in the animaton industry then that is a special treat. Much can be learned from the wisdom imparted by these talented bloggers. Sometimes even a casual remark can shed light on the creative process.

These are my favourites picked from my list of bookmarked websites. Rather than put them in order of merit I am going to give them in alphabetical order.

Angry animator. Written by Dermot O’ Connor who tells us he is “an itinerant animator, making a living through contract work”. He has worked in the animation industry for over 20 years, in features and TV.

Animation Blog. Written by Ian Lumsden, an animation teacher and deputy head of Performing Arts College, in the United Kingdom, it is billed as a critical guide to the animated short: classic, new, and on-line! Ian says he began the blog “to highlight art and suchlike that may be of interest for our animation students”.

Animation Tips & Tricks. This blog has numerous different guest writers from the world of professional animation. It is run by AnimationMentor.com as an add-on to their online animation school.

ASIFA-Hollywood Animation Archive. This is a treasure chest of illustrations, cartoons, history, instruction and much more. The blog is indexed under various headings but if you want to view it in date order look for the small “Archive of Past Posts” drop-down box part way down the right-hand column.

BJ and the Blog. BJ Crawford is a freelance animator in the Midwest of the USA. It is subtitled “a character animation blog” and is packed with contemporary illustrations and movie clips. There are also lot of links to other animators and illustrators.

Jamaal Bradley is a character animator in Los Angeles, California, USA. He blogs about his work in the animation studio and uses lots of his own sketches to illustrate the posts. Jamaal also runs the excellent Pencil Test Depot blog.

Your old men will dream dreams. Your young men will see visions. Joel Brinkerhoff is an animator from Oregon, USA, who also sculpts and paints. His blog has lots of illustrations from stuff he has worked on.

John K Stuff. John Kricfalusi is a cartoonist in LA, California, USA. He worked at Hanna Barbera studios in the 1980s as a layout supervisor. His blog is packed with illustrations and he analyses the cartoon films with great authority.

Michael Sporn Animation, Inc. Michael blogs about the art, animation, work and some of the thoughts of the artists working at his New York animation studio. He has produced and directed numerous animated TV specials and short spots.

The Cartoon Cave subtitled “The Blogsite That Time Forgot”. Blogger Pete Emslie is a freelance cartoonist and also teaches character design in the animation program at Sheridan College, Canada. His blog is packed with illustrations plus hint and tips on drawing. He says “I love to draw cute characters”.

If you have favourite that is not on my list please let us know in a comment to this post.

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.

Pivot – a great tool for teaching children animation

Pivot stick figure animator is a great piece of free animation software that is ideal for introducing the principals of movement to children. When the software is first opened there is a stick figure in the centre of the frame. Each limb is jointed and can be moved by grabbing red spots with the mouse curser and dragging them. When you add a frame and move the figure a grey shadow is left in the old position in an onion skin effect. This allows you to judge how much to move the figure. Once two frames have been completed the animation can be played so you can check how you are doing as you go along. The frames also appear in a strip along the top of the work area.

The animation can be saved at any stage as a piv file and also as an animated gif file. Here is a 12 frame test animation that I made with the Pivot software.

The onion skin effect.

There is much more that you can do with Pivot. You can import any jpg or bmp image to act as a background. I created the background of the above animation in Photoshop using a few oval shapes and saved it as a bmp file. When it is imported it is added to all of the frames. If you don’t like the effect you can remove it and try a different background.

You can also design your own stick figures using a range of shapes. It is simply a matter of dragging each part into the work area. The four short animations that are included with the software give an idea of what is possible. They feature a man, a horse, an elephant and some dominos.

Pivot stick figure animator runs on a PC with Windows 98/2000/XP/2003/Vista/7.
It is a free download from the SnapFiles website.

100 Pixar characters drawn to scale

A fascinating panorama of Pixar characters drawn to scale has been produced by graphic artist Juan Pablo Bravo. The silhouette characters are are arranged in a timeline starting with Wally B from the 1984 short film The Adventures of André and Wally B and ending in 2010 with Twitch from Toy Story 3. There is also a filmography listing the characters in the Pixar feature films and the shorts.

The full size picture is 7676 pixels wide, too large to host here, so I will direct you to Juan Pablo Bravo’s Flickr page.

View the full size picture here.

Computer Arts Graduate Showcase 2010 call for entries

The Graduate Showcase is Computer Arts magazines’ annual compilation of the best final-year student design work from around the world. It is now in its 14th year.

If you are a final-year student on graduate design programme then this is your chance to get your work seen by over 20,000 design professionals worldwide. It is a great way to kick-start your design career. Entries can be made in the following categories:

• Animation
• Graphic Design
• Illustration & 2D
• Video & Broadcast
• Web & Interactive Media

The deadline for entries is 11 July 2010.

You can find out more details about entry specifications for each category by downloading the entry form. It is in PDF format.

Pencil Test Depot

Pencil Test Depot is a blog for the people who love pencil tests. Jamaal Bradley has amassed a collection of pencil tests from classic Disney films plus interesting pencil tests from other sources. A recent addition is a series of pencil tests from Disney’s Princess and the Frog that were animated by Matt Williames.

Another recent addition is a Frank Thomas rough pencil test of Captain Hook. In a comment to this video, animator Joel Brinkerhoff said “I love that frame with the three candles squashed and the stretched base on the candle stick as he slams it down. I also love the unfocused eyes as he collects himself.” I have attached the video clip below – can you spot these details?


Pencil test of Captain Hook.

Pencil Test Depot is a great resource for anyone studding animation.
Visit the blog at Pencil Test Depot.

Tribute to Harryhausen Stop Motion Film Festival

Ray Harryhausen with Serpent Woman from The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958)

A special contest celebrating the life and works of Ray Harryhausen, who turns 90 on June 29th, 2010, has been announced by Stop Motion Magic.

Ray Harryhausen is regarded by many as one of the greatest stop motion animators and special effects wizards of all time. During his long career Ray Harryhausen has taken movie goers on adventures through mythical lands with heroes like Jason and Sinbad, and has shown the monsters that lurk beneath the sea.

In celebration of those films and fantasies, Stop Motion Magic has announced the Tribute to Harryhausen Stop Motion Film Festival with a call for animators to take part take part by creating their own stop motion tribute. Animators can use their favourite Harryhausen characters in a new way, or create a new myth in his style. Puppet animation is preferred, as Harryhausen created incredibly lifelike creatures, but quality claymation, toymation, cutout animation, and other animation techniques are welcome. Entries should be submitted by June 1st, 2010.

For more details visit the Stop Motion Magic website.

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.