Weekly Post #3- Interesting Animation Techniques

Part #3 of a 5 part blog series, uploaded once a week, where I:

  • Share 3 Songs
  • Write a short article about animation
  • Ask 3 questions
  • Share 5 images
  • Share 5 sakuga clips

So, the bi-daily blog post idea didn’t work out. Other work caught up with me and I realised that writing a post every 2 days isn’t realistic for me just now. Part of the reason I started these regular posts was to get a feel of what I’m able to do on this blog so I’ve decided to make this series come out once a week instead of every two days.

This week’s post is a bit shorter, it’s mostly an add-on to the last article. I’d only planned to write a couple hundred words for these and the last one I did was 3000 so I have to tone it down a bit.

But either way enjoy, and hopefully the extra song, images and clips will make up for a shorter article.

4 Songs

Interesting Animation Techniques

There’s this common belief that animation techniques can be tied to certain countries. That impact frames, for example, are only seen in Japanese animation. It’s true that some techniques are more popular in certain parts of the world, but most animation techniques are used across cultures. They are, however, usually used in different ways. Here are some examples of interesting animation techniques, often associated with anime, that are used around the world.

GLOSSARY
  • Animation on 1s– There is a new drawing on every frame- i.e. the animation runs at 24 frames per second. This kind of animation is often used for fast motions.
  • Animation on 2s– There is a new drawing on every second frame- i.e. the animation runs at 12 frames per second. This kind of animation is often used for moderately paced or slow motions.
  • Animation on 3s- There is a new drawing on every third frame- i.e. the animation runs at 8 frames per second. Animation can also be on 4s, 5s etc.
  • Selling– Making an action feel convincing. For example, “Drawing fire on the soccer ball as it was being kicked really sold the power of the kick”.

Limited Animation

Limited animation is the practice of animating at framerates lower than 24fps. In my previous post I showed how some Western animated films have sequences on 2s (i.e. shots that run at 12fps) but I think I undersold how common sub-24fpfs shots are. Most of the cuts in Don Bluth’s films are on 2s for example.

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Key Animator: John Pomeroy (?)/Don Bluth (?)

These shots from The Secret of NIMH are animated on 2s, although their smoothness might have you believe otherwise.

In the West slower, deliberate movements are usually on 2s and fast movements on 1s. In the shot below Beast is animated on 2s- a choice that makes his suppressed anger look more believable. The slow movement helps to sell the tenseness in his body.

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Key Animator: Glen Keane (?)

With these clips we can, again, see that smooth animation isn’t always the product of a higher framerate. As animator Tissa David puts it, “It’s not how many drawings [you use] but how you use them”.

See how James Baxter’s pencil test from Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron (animated at 12fps) feels smoother than the clip from Fantasia 2000 (animated at 24fps).

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Key Animator: James Baxter

Pencil test from Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron, animated at 12fps.

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Key Animator: Unknown

Clip from Fantasia 2000, animated at 24fps.

Irregular Framerates

Most animated works run at 24fps (to be pedantic, animated TV shows run at 23.98 fps. You can read about why this weird framerate exists here). But animation can run at any framerate.

Some of Masanobu Hiraoka’s internet work runs at 30fps. It’s possible that a higher framerate compliments his flowing animation style better than a 24fps framerate.

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Key Animator: Masanobu Hiraoka

Clip from Sincho.tv, animated at 30fps.

The German film Felidae runs at 25fps. I’m not sure why this is- it might be due to different industry standards in Germany. This framerate doesn’t noticeably affect the animation given how close it is to the standard 24fps.

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Key Animator: Hayo Freitag

Clip from Felidae, animated at 25fps.

Abstract animator Hideki Inaba uses many different framerates. Some of his works are 30fps, some 24fps.

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Key Animator: Hideki Inaba

Clip from Hadopelagic, animated at 30fps.

His most popular video, Slowly Rising, runs at 15fps. This strange framerate likely helps give the video its otherworldly vibe and, surprisingly, doesn’t take away from the fluidity of the animation.

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Key Animator: Hideki Inaba

Clip from Slowly Rising, animated at 15fps.

No framerate seems inherently better or worse than any other. The industry standard of 24fps is suited to many different styles of animation. But non-traditional framerates can have interesting effects on a shot. The internet helps encourage animation at different framerates as there’s no need to follow industry standards.

Frame Modulation

Frame modulation is the use of different frame rates within one cut. For example, the framerate of this cut from Sword of the Stranger changes along with the action.

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Key Animator: Yutaka Nakamura

Characters run towards the camera on 2s, slow down to face each other on 3s and there are a few frames on 1s as their swords clash to bring in a sense of speed. Luo-Lang (the blonde man) also moves on different frames than Nanashi (the black haired man) during his leap, making his spin attack feel more unpredictable.

This is another technique sometimes seen as unique to anime, but it’s used widely in the West. In this shot Beast moves on 2s as he feigns a smile and snaps into a snarl on 1s.

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Key Animator: Glen Keane (?)

Similarly, when Jenner laughs and points to the camera in this cut he moves on 1s, but his movements inbetween these actions are on 2s.

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Key Animator: John Pomeroy (?)

This kind of slowing down and speeding up of the action is called ease in and ease out in the West.

Psuedo 24fps

A specific kind of frame modulation. This refers to shots in which objects do not move in every frame, but 2 or more layers of objects move on alternating frames, making it appear 24fps. For example, take a look at this shot from Episode 3 of Voogie’s Angel.

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Key Animator: Mitsuo Iso

When slowed to 10% of its original speed we can see that objects in the foreground move on every odd numbered frame and objects in the background move on every even numbered frame.

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Key Animator: Mitsuo Iso

This technique creates animation that feels complicated and rough. I’m sure this technique has been used at some point in Western animation, but it’s much more common in anime. Western animation likes to prioritise fluidity over expressionism, so a technique like this would stand out in the West.

Another kind of pseudo 24fps technique can be seen in this shot from The Animatrix.

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Key Animator: Koji Morimoto (?)

Both Yoko (the woman) and the bird move on the same frames and at the same framerate (12fps). But the bird is also panning across the screen on 1s. In other words, the layer the bird is drawn on moves to the right in every frame even though the bird itself only gains a new animation drawing every 2 frames.

I feel like this technique helps give the cut its dreamlike quality. Impossibly, the bird appears to move faster than Yoko despite having the same number of movements.

Background Animation

Shots in which the animator redraws parts of the background or scenery along with the action to simulate a moving camera.

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Key Animator: Unknown

Clip from Spriggan. The background and scenery in this shot, including the elevator and elevator shaft, are redrawn in every frame.

The difficulty of making convincing background animation is probably what makes this technique rare in the West. Camera pans and CGI backgrounds are used far more often. But the technique does show up in some Western films, although it’s usually less noticeable.

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Key Animator: Unknown

There’s background animation in this shot from the Lion King. The ground is an animation cel, and is redrawn in every frame as the camera rotates.

Background animation is used more in Western TV shows. This is likely because animation in Western shows is usually outsourced to counties where this technique is more popular, like Japan or South Korea.

Examples of background animation in Batman: The Animated Series and Tiny Toon Adventures.

The Simpsons also seemed to have had a thing for background animation in its earlier seasons.

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Key Animator: Matthew Nastuk

From The Simpsons, Treehouse of Horror VIII.

Impact Frames

An impact frame is a frame of animation, often painted in stark colours like black and white, used to emphasise an action. For example, see how the barrage of frames at the moment of impact adds to the power of Saitama’s punch in this clip.

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Key Animator: Yoshimichi Kameda

Clip from One-Punch Man, Episode 1.

When slowed to 10% of the original speed we can see that several starkly colored drawings, or impact frames, help give the punch its power.

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The 3 main impact frames from the cut above.

This stylish technique is seen a lot more in anime, as Western works prefer to focus on fluidity. With that said, anime inspired shows, like Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and OK K.O.!, like to use impact frames. They can also be seen in Western works where the animation has been drawn by Japanese animators like Thundercats.

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Key Animator: Tsuguyuki Kubo

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Impact frames from the cuts above.

But they even show up in movies like Dumbo. Expressionistic sequences, like this Pink Elephant one, are one of the few kinds of scenes where stylistic techniques like this would be used in Disney films.

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Key Animator: Howard Swift

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Impact frames from the cut above.

3 Questions

  • Should animation aim to be realistic and expressionistic at the same time?
  • Should studios be more open to using different framerates?
  • What are your thoughts on CGI backgrounds?

11 Images

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One Reply to “Weekly Post #3- Interesting Animation Techniques”

  1. > Should animation aim to be realistic and expressionistic at the same time?
    It can, and arguably used to in the past. Specifically Takashi Nakamura’s style, who was copied by many up-and-coming animators during the 80s and 90s, did exactly that. In all honesty, there’s no point in making realistic animation anyway. Use the medium’s strengths instead of mimicking nature to a T. Even people like Okiura understand that.

    > What are your thoughts on CGI backgrounds?
    The only way to make certain sequences work. Prime example being the intro to Tekkon Kinkreet, where the crow takes the film’s audience on a journey through Treasure Town. Said cut would probably be borderline impossible using traditional means.

    Like

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