My personal experience with cartoon animation in general varies from project to project or shot to shot. At the beginning it was all about animating things fast…really for now reason or physical motivation. If you go through my early cartoon work in animation, you can easily tell I was simply moving things around. No thought or physical motivation was applied to my work. I wound simply say “ok, in two frames I’m moving the character like this…it’ll be fun!”. Well, the fun snappy animation gets old fast if all you are doing is snapping the character around from pose to pose constantly in your shot. At that point I started bringing in timing and trying to figure out how to add rhythm to a shot. Easily one of the hardest things to do. I’d like whoever reads this to look at this clip from STOMP, as it’s been one of my biggest inspirations from a timing point of view. If you can buy this video I’d highly recommend it. I can loop this DVD a hundred times and never get tired of it.

STOMP clip.

Watching this clip started bringing the idea of timing to a whole new level.
For once, timing started playing a much bigger role in my work, very much in a musical type of way. How could I break timing down in a way that it would keep people watching? Sometimes it starts early on, on the very rough blocking of your poses. Beats in poses can have an harmony, rhythm and musicality that will keep your viewers attention. So in this clip I noticed:

  • It’s just basically a bunch of bouncing balls. That’s all it is really. But it’s the timing that keeps us watching.
  • You have a beginning, middle and end. Just like a shortfilm, you establish things, you bring them to a peak, and you have a resolution.
  • Here and there, you break the timing down…so for example, the Stomp guys will abruptly stop. That’s basically telling us “we are keeping you surprised and not reapeating the hell out of things”. Then they bring the beats back…now this time, increasing the intensity of their performance, adding other beats and different timings. They are also building a progression on their musical performance.
  • More breaking of things, at this point, different sounds are brought up (walls, different grounds)…in your animation character, you also have those tools when you are able to break the timing of different parts of the body, maybe within a pose you work out subposes, the expressions, etc.
  • Each section increases the previous one. Basically as I’m watching I have somewhere to go…so I’m interested in where I am going. If they go back to the same timing/tricks as early in the section, audiences are quick at saying “seen that. I’m done”. So you gotta figure out ways to keep an audience interested, even when all you have if timing.

So in conclusion, some things I’ve come to learn over the years:

  • Don’t be repetitive on your timing. If overdone, it’ll bore people to death. Sometimes snappy repetitive animation for the sake of snappy animation falls in this category. You should figure out ways to keep your viewers engaged, make some parts fast, but slow down other parts. Basically add contrast to your animation…and this perfectly applies to appealing timing in your shots.
  • Bring your timing a sense of rhythm. Break things up. Don’t make things too slow overall, and not too fast either. Instead, add timing moments for an audience to breath…and then surprise them again.
  • In terms of timing affecting locomotion (and this affects realistic timing and cartoon timing), keep in mind that not all parts of the body move at the same time. Always remember that. My arm is not as heavy as my head…therefore they’ll move differently and have different timing. Good read from Victor Navone here.
  • Make sure your timing allows people to know exactly what’s going on. Even if you are moving a character from A to B in ONE frame. If you prepare the audience previously and give them time in the anticipation, and then you give a reaction to the character to how fast that move was in how it’s timed afterwards, then the audience will follow whatever you throw at them. Otherwise, if these things are not time properly, people will have no clue what had just happened. Good read from John Lasseter.
  • The core remains in the timing. A bouncing ball doesn’t have arms or legs. Yet, you have timing and spacing to bring them alive. Look at Cameron Miyasaki’s early work on bouncing balls to see what I mean on breaking things down.
  • This is very important in animation actually…particularly cartoon animation. How can you create a believable animation that while it still falls in the cartoon world, it somehow feels new, physical? I’m still trying to figure out that question myself. In addition to the Stomp clip, some of the clips that capture my attention nowadays and that I try to study, in a way play with the concepts of thought or personality. It’s the thought or the personality of the character, that can create a physical move that is funny.

On his site “All Kinds of stuff”, John Kricfalusi posted recently an excellent study on the Tex Avery film “Bad Luck Blackie” and the role of audience’s expectations when creating gags and enterntainment.

Wanted to recommend this reading, even if what you animate has nothing to do with exagerated cartoon animation. A lot of things apply in the way we think and view things.
Gags are a tricky thing to work on nowadays…A lot of things have been done already, so audiences expect or almost know what’s going to happen. Sometimes working out a gag is based on anticipating already what an audience knows, and create an additional twist around that idea. Similar thing as we experience with horror films. Many films you see fall on the category of “I’ve seen that. I know what’s going to happen next”. So it does take a lot to come up with new ways to surprise your audience.

Some things I wanted to share.
I hope this helps.