Learning the mechanics of animation

My favourite resource for learning the mechanics of animation.

I've mentioned elsewhere that I went to university for three years and it might be fair to assume that is where I learnt to animate. Sadly that wasn’t the case.

My course combined elements of both design and animation so it was already covering more than a dedicated animation course would. The time that was spent learning animation was also further divided as it covered both 2d and 3d animation. When you also consider all of the different disciplines involved within 3d, such as modelling, rigging and lighting, there’s not much time left to learn the principles of animation. Also, since both the 2d and 3d sides of the course were digital, we spent a large proportion of our time just learning software.

Whilst we obviously need to know how to use software to animate, without an understanding of animation principles and mechanics we can never create something which moves with a believable sense of life.

Since my degree course was not helping me, I started to search elsewhere. At the time, the information available online was limited, so I turned to books. Fortunately for me, a new book had just been published on the subject and I snapped it up the second I saw it in the bookshop.

The Animator's Survival Kit

“The Animator’s Survival Kit” by Richard Williams is the most comprehensive guide to the mechanics of animation ever published, and there are few professional animators who don’t own a copy. I actually own two but that’s another story!

Richard Williams is most well known for being the Director of Animation on the film “Who Framed Roger Rabbit”, but he had a long career animating commercials and film title sequences from his studio in London.

Whilst the book barely touches upon acting, a fundamental element of good animation, this is something which can only really be layered on top of a solid understanding of principles and mechanics. This is something which the book covers thoroughly.

Now, I should note that the book is based upon traditional hand drawn animation but the principles all very much apply to any medium of animation. The information in the book on traditional techniques, such as the use of timing charts, will also very much aid your understanding of 3d animation.

To give you a more in-depth look at the book, I created a video which also discusses the most valuable lesson I took from it.

Obviously, “The Animator’s Survival Kit” didn’t teach me everything, but it gave me an excellent head start and I’d highly recommend it to anyone who is serious about learning animation.

Incidentally, there are only two occasions I can remember from university where animation mechanics were discussed at all. On both occasions, students were given handouts photocopied from “The Animator’s Survival Kit”!


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