|It's fun to animate cartoons! Thanks to an abundance of
inexpensive animation software, beginners now have plenty of ways to get their
"monkey business" from script to screen.
To create classical animated cartoons, begin with a pencil and thin paper, and draw on a
light table. Be sure to use a registration (alignment) system such as holes punched in
your paper, and keep your pages aligned on a peg bar -- or at least align the corners of
the sheet. Flip your drawings from bottom to top to check the motion, making adjustments
as you go. When you think you have something, scan your drawings individually in 72 dpi
black and white or greyscale to create a "pencil test." Remember to maintain the
alignment on the scanner platen. If you used a peg bar and punched paper, tape the peg bar
onto the scanner to keep everything in register.
You may also save a lot of time at the scanner by
using a graphics tablet to create your
Your test will play back better if you make the frame file sizes small. That means
limiting the frame size to about 200 pixels wide, and limiting the number of bitplanes or
levels of grey. Usually 3 bitplanes (8 levels of grey) are sufficient. If you need a
shareware image processing tool, try Graphic Workshop (pictured at left)
from Alchemy Mindworks. Although its interface takes a little getting used to, it gives
you an efficient batch-processing capability. Download it from http://www.mindworkshop.com/alchemy/alchemy1.html#software
or from ftp://ftp.mindworkshop.com/pub/alchemy/gwsw95.exe.
animation software at Amazon.com
Ulead GIF Animator, pictured below, is a great program in which to compile a
small animation. You can buy it from Amazon.com
. Use the Animation Wizard to load all the frames.
Usually you will want to set the overall timing at somewhere between 10 and 15
one-hundredths of a second. That will give you effective frame rates of 10fps (frames per
second) to about 7fps. After the Animation Wizard finishes loading the frames, adjust the
timing as needed and add longer delays for desired holds (pauses). After checking the action of your cartoon, decide if you
need to make changes. If so, go back to the drawing board, then scan the drawings again
for a new test.
When you are satisfied, you can ink the backs of the sheets on your light table to create
clean lines for your finished animation masterpiece. Scan the ink drawings and recompile
the work in Ulead.
If you have a winner, simply color each frame and recompile the final color version.
Pictured at left is a slightly more sophisticated tool: A German
company called Cosmigo at http://www.cosmigo.com has
released Pro Motion, which allows you to paint on the individual frames
in an animation. Features in version 4 include animated brushes, a 3D motion requester,
extensive animation file support, and the ever-popular light table, also known as onion
skinning (viewing multiple frames simultaneously as ghosted images). It was designed with
Amiga Deluxepaint users in mind; the tools are very similar to the legendary product from
Electronics Arts, and it even imports IFF and ANIM8 files. You can download a free trial
version with some functions disabled, or get the full licensed version for
When you are ready to create sound cartoons, you may want to graduate to Director 8.5 Shockwave Studio or Flash. Examples of ARG!'s Flash cartoons
may be seen here. There are also a number of inexpensive tools available to create Video
for Windows (AVI) and Quicktime (MOV) files, if you prefer. Paint your backgrounds with
traditional media, just because it's fun to splash paint around. Or combine your animation
with live action. Then you may want to take the ultimate step: Digitally composite and
output the frames to a CD ROM, film or videotape.
Almost all computers can be useful. At ARG!, many of our older cartoons were drawn on
paper on a light table, digitized (scanned with a video camera and a slow-scan digitizer
such as NewTek's DigiView Gold) page by page into an Amiga system, compiled into an anim5
file in DeluxePaint IV, cleaned up and panel filled, exported to a Pentium PC, then
recompiled in Ulead GIF Animator. Of course synchronized sound, especially speech, adds
another layer of complexity to the production. When the final output is video we usually
do the post-production with Adobe Premiere on a G4 Mac.
If you really, really want to animate cartoons, you can teach yourself. Pick up Preston
Blair's inexpensive primer, "How To Animate Film Cartoons" or the more detailed
"Cartoon Animation" published by Walter Foster Books. You can get either of
these from our books section. Preston Blair was a star animator at
Disney Studios where he animated the hippos in Fantasia, and at MGM Studios where
he worked on Red Hot Riding Hood, among other shorts. Buy or build yourself a
small light table, and study Blair. Draw every chance you get. Draw all the time! There is
no substitute for drawing and observing nature.
With all of these great digital tools at hand to assist you, it is important that I tell
you that good cartoon animation is not produced by machines or software. It is created by
people who have studied life drawing for years, and understand how things look and how
they move. Here are some things to think about while you are animating, or planning a
Things to Remember
1. Path of action: The path of
any motion should be plotted out in advance. For simplicity's sake, it is best to plot
this out on a single sheet, and use this as a guide for all positions.
2. Extreme poses and inbetweens:
Work hard to get good extreme poses, and the inbetweens will come naturally. Most
animation uses this system. The other way to animate is "straight ahead." This
is more natural, but harder to get right. Very experienced animators sometimes create
extremes that are only used as a rough guide for their fluid, straight ahead animation.
3. Slow-in, slow-out: Lifelike
movements start slowly, speed up, then slow down before stopping. The inbetween positions
will generally be closer together near the extremes:
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4. Squash and stretch: Cartoon
characters, and parts thereof, should squash as they anticipate or stop, and stretch as
5. Anticipation and follow-through: These are grouped together since they both involve principles of
inertia. Characters should anticipate a movement by moving slightly in the opposite
direction. Follow-through means incorporating inertia into your animation. For instance,
when a character moves quickly and stops, his clothing may continue to move for a fraction
of a second, then fall back into place. Great examples of follow-through can be seen in
classic fat characters.
6. Overlapping action: If you just animate one action at a time, your characters will have a
robot-like appearance. In good cartoons, as in the real world, movements overlap.
7. Exaggeration! Tracing a motion from live action film rarely produces satisfactory
cartoons, since the whole idea of cartooning is to parody the real world. Push your
extreme drawings to the limits!
Artie Romero, founder of ARG!
Cartoon Animation Studio, has 20 years
of motion picture and television screen credits. He was a Master Teacher of Animation for
the Colorado Springs School District 11 Gifted and Talented Program from 1982 to 1983, and
served as Dean of Animation at Inkspinner Schools of Art from 1993 to 1996.